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San Francisco Airport Bans Rideshare App Companies from Taxi Line

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 04:58 PM

Last month, San Francisco International Airport issued cease-and-desist orders to six different app-based rideshare companies like Lyft, SideCar, and UberX.

These companies connect regular drivers –not licensed taxi or limo drivers– to passengers via smartphone app. The driver gets paid through a voluntary donation, also done through the app.

Doug Yakel, a spokesperson for the airport, said it’s not about shutting out new forms of transportation. “We’re very open to new business ideas and we would like to provide a way to provide those options, but we have an obligation to safety,” he said. “We also have to keep a level playing field and promote fairness.”

With 44 million people coming through SFO each year, Yakel says it’s important to make sure each passenger gets a safe and fairly priced ride from the airport.

On its website, SideCar says it shouldn’t be regulated like a taxi or limo company, because it isn’t one. They say they are a “peer to peer ridesharing app,” not a typical dispatch service that requires regulation. SideCar says it simply facilitates trips that are legal in California– thinkcasual carpools.

Yakel acknowledges that carpooling and traditional ridesharing are legal, but he maintains that SideCar and similar companies have a key difference.

“The difference is money is being exchanged for transportation and the company is keeping some of the profits,” Yakel said.

In other words, app-based rideshare companies can’t claim they’re just helping people find rides -- so the airport says they should be regulated like taxis and shuttles.

Back in November, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued cease-and-desist orders and fines to Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar to stop all operations within the state. Since then, Lyft and Uber have entered into operating agreements with the CPUC, meaning they’ve showed proof of insurance that will protect their passengers in the case of accident or injury.

But that’s just temporary. The CPUC is studying how to determine -- if at all -- how the agency should regulate ridesharing companies.

“We’re concerned for the safety of riders and everyone involved in these new operations,” said CPUC spokesperson Andrew Kotch. “We’re figuring out how rules might be revised to include these new transportation entities.”

The CPUC is holding a workshops this week to bring together representatives from all affected parties –including rideshare companies, limousine services, and taxis – and discuss the agency’s options in regulation.

“The information we gather will be taken into consideration and will help come up with a new proposal, expected in mid- to late summer,” said Kotch.

Meanwhile, airport spokesperson Doug Yakel said the airport permit process is closely linked to the CPUC’s.

“Before we could begin the airport permit process, they have to clear the CPUC and MTA processes,” he said. “These companies have to find their place in the transportation process.”

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