Proposal for Uber pickups at Hartsfield-Jackson in holding pattern

City of Atlanta officials may alter a proposal to legalize airport pickups by ride-share services Uber X and Lyft, while a delegation of city and airport officials made a trip to Newark last week to study that city’s deal with Uber.

Airport officials have said they plan to require Uber X and Lyft drivers to submit to fingerprint-based background checks in order to pick up passengers at the airport.

That proposal unveiled in March drew staunch opposition from Uber and Lyft, raising the threat that those ride-share services would not serve Hartsfield-Jackson International if the airport’s proposal were put into place.

The city of Newark and Uber were reportedly at odds over regulations earlier this year, but that has since changed. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka recently reached a deal with Uber will not require government-run fingerprint-based checks, but instead will codify Uber's existing background checks handled through a third-party provider. The deal includes a $10 million permit fee paid by Uber to the city of Newark over a ten-year period, among other requirements.

Atlanta officials are putting a hold on efforts to put in place new regulations that would officially legalize and regulate Uber X and Lyft pickups at Hartsfield-Jackson, as they look at changing the airport’s proposal.

Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell had previously said he hoped to legalize Uber X and Lyft pickups at the airport by July 1.

“It’s difficult to say at this time” if it will still happen by July 1, Southwell said this week.

Atlanta’s revamp of its proposal for Uber pickups at the airport also comes amid battles over regulation of Uber elsewhere.

“This fingerprinting discussion is part of a national conversation,” said Atlanta city council transportation committee chair Yolanda Adrean.

Uber operates in 30 states and more than 50 airports that do not require fingerprints.

But in Austin, residents on Saturday voted against a measure to eliminate a requirement for fingerprint checks of Uber and Lyft drivers, a defeat for the ride-share companies that led them to pull out of Austin on Monday.

Uber has also threatened to leave Houston if that city does not change its rules, which require fingerprints.

Newark’s deal struck with Uber is different, and is an example Atlanta officials are reviewing closely. The mayors of Atlanta and Newark are no strangers, with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed helping to organize a birthday party fundraiser for Baraka in 2014.

The Atlanta delegation that went to Newark included Reed’s deputy chief of staff Katrina Taylor Parks, his senior advisor Melissa Mullinax, Hartsfield-Jackson chief financial officer Roosevelt Council and the airport’s ground transportation director Tracy Harrison.

“What we learned is that there’s actually additional due diligence in Newark’s contract… that actually yields more information than a fingerprinting would,” Taylor Parks said. Fingerprinting “does not give you everything all of the time. So what Newark did was they added layers…. that it made more comprehensive.”

“That’s what Newark did,” Taylor Parks said. “We have to look at the Georgia law.”

Legislation passed in Georgia last year preempts certain local regulations of for-hire drivers and limits fees that can be collected by the airport.

Adrean, the committee chair, said she does not know whether the proposal to require fingerprints will change. “But, you know, it’s going to be just like Austin said, ‘Our city, our safety.’ Safety first.”

Adrean said she plans to continue to keep the measure on hold in the council committee, and Mullinax said she expects to see movement on the measure “in the next four or five weeks.”