Cabbies fight Atlanta airport rule for newer cars

Dozens of taxi drivers showed up at an Atlanta city council transportation committee meeting on Feb. 15, 2017 to show their concern with a new taxi vehicle age limit.
Dozens of taxi drivers showed up at an Atlanta city council transportation committee meeting on Feb. 15, 2017 to show their concern with a new taxi vehicle age limit.

Atlanta taxi drivers say hundreds of cabs will be disqualified from picking up passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson International under a new vehicle age limit imposed by the city.

Dozens of drivers filled an Atlanta city council transportation committee meeting Wednesday to express frustration with the new seven-year limit, saying they already face declining income due to increased competition from ride-share services Uber and Lyft.

“A lot of drivers are panicking,” said Sharmarke Yonis, a driver who represents cabbies in discussions with the city and the airport.

Drivers say many taxi drivers can’t afford to buy new cars, and that hundreds of them will be out of work due to the new requirement.

They say many are now waiting in the hold lots for six hours for a single ride, due in part to new competition.

The city council last September tightened the age limit for cabs making airport pickups from 10 years to seven, with the rule scheduled to take effect at the start of this year. That change was part of a broader effort to legalize and regulate Uber and Lyft pickups at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which had previously been prohibited.

Uber and Lyft are also subject to the seven-year limit on vehicle age.

“We’re getting push-back (but) our job is to enforce it,” Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council said Wednesday.

There’s a long history to the age limit on taxis in Atlanta. The city has for more than a decade sought to require that taxi cabs be newer, but Katrina Taylor Parks, a top aide to Mayor Kasim Reed, said the taxi industry has gotten multiple extensions to delay a stricter requirement.

“There has to be a cutting off point,” she said. “The city’s position is about safety.”

Taxi drivers note that in 2015, as competition from Uber and Lyft mounted, the city put the 10-year age limit in place. The seven-year limit came up just a year later as officials negotiated legalization of Uber and Lyft pickups at Hartsfield-Jackson.

“This whole thing about a seven-year requirement is arbitrary,” said Steve Belcher, a longtime driver representative. “How can you expect someone in three months to come up with a new vehicle when you’re still paying off the old one?… We are going up against a global corporation with billions of dollars.”

Drivers work long hours to get enough rides to pay off car loans, said Ndubueze Alaka, who also represents taxi drivers.

"Uber coming into the airport has created more hardship than there was before," Alaka said. "Sleeping at the airport, making three trips over 24 hours."

Council members and others suggested ideas from vehicle inspections to exempt cars from the age limit to advertising wraps on taxi cabs to generate income.

Transportation committee chair C.T. Martin said he plans a work session on the matter, suggesting potential flexibility.

“It’s just a matter of being as open as we can and sensitive to the plight of cab drivers,” Martin said.

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