San Francisco Airport Cracking Down On — Arresting — Rideshare Drivers

Reader Drew passes along an article about San Francisco airport officials arresting rideshare drivers.

In the past month, San Francisco International Airport officials have been citing and arresting drivers from mobile-app enabled rideshare companies that pick up and drop off passengers, an airport spokesman said.

Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said there have been seven citizen arrests issued to “various offenders” since July 10.

The airport had issued cease and desist letters to several rideshare companies, including Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, in April.

The arrests are for trespassing, although legal technicalities aside I’m not sure how the concept of trespass can make sense for someone dropping a passenger off at an airport. And I’m curious how they know a driver is on a trip with Uber rather than making a trip through their normal pre-scheduled car service company. (Update: as mentioned in the comments, the article must be referring to Uber’s newer ‘UberX’ ridesharing service.)

Taxi drivers are rallying to have their competition legally shut down.

Taxi drivers are holding a noon rally at San Francisco City Hall Tuesday to “keep taxis regulated and safe” and are calling for the end of ridesharing services.

The taxi group, comprised of members from the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association and the United Taxicab Workers of San Francisco, are demanding that city officials and regulatory agencies consider rideshare companies as illegal taxi services.

Advocates of banning car service apps and ridesharing claim that services are “exempt from regulation, vehicle inspections, and insurance and driver requirements” and are a “clear public safety hazard.”

I’m not sure how this makes sense.

  • California doesn’t require commercial drivers licenses for taxi cab drivers. Private drivers must of course be licensed.

  • And of course a friend who may drive you to the airport doesn’t have additional burdens, is having your spouse take you to the airport a public safety hazard?

  • Lyft imposes substantial safety requirements on people who would offer you rides. They do background checks and disqualify anyone with more than 2 moving violations within 3 years or a DUI or drug-related driving violation within 7 years, as well as anyone with a felony, violent crime, theft, or sex conviction. They do safety inspections and add $1 million liability on top of the driver’s insurance. Their requirements are more stringent than those required in the state.

Taxi cab drivers aren’t concerned with the safety offered by other services, and the safety questions aren’t compelling. They are concerned with competition and want the government to protect their revenue model.

On average I’d feel more comfortable with a car and driver working through Lyft than a taxi. Do you disagree?

I wonder if this post will net me the San Francisco equivalent of the nastygram I received from the DC Taxi Commission.

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About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. To clarify on Uber: Uber offers multiple tiers of service. The newest one is UberX, which does uses independent drivers that don’t have commercial insurance. (This was set up to compete with Lyft and Sidecar.)

  2. Yes, I get it: you love Uber. But this is nothing new: check out this article from 2001 about unlicensed cabs in Orange County, CA:

    Sure sounds like cabs need to be licensed in some places in California!

    Anyway, I believe the issue here is “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” And the game is, cabs are regulated. You might not like it: but it’s where things stand right now. Sounds a lot like another industry you might be familiar with – maybe commercial air travel? Oh yeah, once regulated, and I am sure SWA once felt a lot like Uber.

    Except in the 70s SWA couldn’t just do whatever they wanted because it seemed reasonable – I mean, can you imagine strict fare and route regulation in 2013?

    Anyway, I’ve taken some super shady unlicensed cabs in my day – including one trip to SMF (California, again!) where the driver told me he didn’t realize we were going to the airport. He had already been caught illegally running his cab once, and almost refused to take me to the airport lest he be caught and fined again. And that was 6 or 7 years ago – again, before this Uber brouhaha. So maybe in your Uber town car you feel safe – but I’ve taken some cabs where I felt lucky the wheels didn’t fall off or I could see the ground under the car.

    So: great, your arguments are perfectly good. But the law is the law, whether you happen to like it or not – so maybe you should try to change the laws instead? Lots of good causes in this world and anti-competative laws favoring incumbents. Too bad that’s not enough to change the game.

  3. The California Public Utilities Commission ruled yesterday (07/30/2013) that Uber, Lyft et al. can continue to operate with a few minor modifications (like driver training, some insurance requirements, etc.), so this is likely to be a done deal pretty soon. No word on how that ruling will impact what’s been happening at the airport, but as a long time resident of SF, let me just say screw you to all the taxi drivers and companies, and add that if you provided a reasonable level of service, you wouldn’t have to worry about competition from these companies. Uber is a godsend to those of us living in this city.

  4. @bode – Southwest began flying intra-Texas and as such was not subject to the Civil Aeronautics Board’s price and route regulation. “The law is the law” and shouldn’t be criticized is hardly persuasive, the substantial decline in (inflation-adjusted) airfares since the abolition of the CAB ought to be sufficient proof of that in your example. And I’ve taken some super shady licensed (in fact, monopoly) cabs from Washington Dulles before…

  5. Anybody riding a cab in Washington, D.C., would surely know that there is no ride worse, more unsafe and unsanitary than a “regulated” DC taxi.

  6. I had a conversation with one of the Uber guys and his point was that taxi drivers really have no incentive for good service. They can provide terrible service, but as long as they don’t do anything illegal, they’re free to do their thing. UberX on the other hand, asks passengers to rate each ride, and if their rating goes below a certain level, they can’t drive for them any more. As such, I’ve found the UberX drivers to be miles and miles more friendly and the cars are so much nicer. They definitely don’t have nearly the knowledge of the streets that I’m used to in a cabby, but they all have GPS and it’s not yet been a problem.

  7. Greedy unions are bringing down America.
    If the cabbies cannot stand the competition in a free market, they deserve to go out of business.

  8. You trespass by intentionally being on the property of another without their consent. SFO apparently understood Lyft, Uber, etc. to be violating City and/or State regulations by dropping passengers off at the airport. That unauthorized–indeed, purportedly per se illegal–activity gives rise to a colorable trespass claim. Whether the City properly construes the law in this area is another question entirely.

  9. Also, I would like to see a link to the requirements CA imposes on cab drivers. You make a bold assertion that CA requires less than Lyft, but then fail to provide any support for the assertion. Finally, you’d be doing yourself a favor by using italics less. Your argument should do the work and place the emphasis. Those who must artificially impose emphasis are not good writers. I think you write well and can avoid it 9/10 times.

  10. The issue that is being raised here, is that by enforcing “THE LAW”
    it is possible that anyone who is dropping off someone at the airport can be arrested or given a ticket. That seems to me to be the issue.
    While there are services that act as Taxis there is a big difference in that these services cannot & do not solicit fares at “random.”

  11. In SF I’ve had cabs break down on the freeway, get lost & hit pedestrians. I find many cabbies in SF are very recent immigrants whose English can be very poor, just getting them to go where you want is a challenge. If there was a way to avoid these issues I would take cabs.

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