Uber says airport ride-share plan won’t fly

Hartsfield-Jackson International plans to require Uber and Lyft drivers get fingerprint-based background checks before they can pick up passengers at the airport, but Uber says that and other parts of the plan are a no-go for the ride-share service.

Airport officials on Thursday unveiled details of their plan to allow ride-share pickups starting July 1, pending Atlanta City Council approval.

In addition to fingerprint checks, drivers would have to display bumper decals and would make pickups at designated curbside spaces. The airport would also collect a $1.50 fee from each fare, as well as an annual $10,000 payment from the companies to help fund infrastructure and pay enforcement and other costs.

Uber voiced immediate objections to the overall plan.

“If this framework were to be implemented, it will be impossible for Uber to (operate)” at Hartsfield-Jackson, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based company said in a written statement.

The proposal “would raise substantial barriers to the Uber driver partners” and is “out of step with the dozens of airports across the country that have welcomed ride-sharing” with operating agreements.

Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Miguel Southwell said his goals are to “give the customers what they want” – service from companies like Uber and Lyft — while promoting safety and customer service.

Southwell said he also aims for a “level playing field” between Uber and Lyft, cab drivers, limo drivers and other transportation providers, a notion Southwell acknowledged “means different things to different people.” Taxi and limo drivers have commercial permits and pay fees to the airport.

Under the plan for ride-share services, a “geofence” around the airport would block the apps and prevent drivers from clogging airport roads and lots while waiting to pick up passengers.

Instead, drivers could wait in surrounding areas such as College Park.

Spotty enforcement

Currently, ride-share pickups are generally not allowed at Hartsfield-Jackson, although enforcement is spotty and many Uber X and Lyft drivers use the cell phone lot to wait for ride requests. Drivers for the more expensive Uber Black limo service generally have permits.

Many passengers have been confused about whether ride-share pickups are allowed and are disappointed when they find out they are not.

The airport spent months working on details of how to allow pickups while also mollifying concerns about security, as well as about the effect on taxis and limos whose owners pay permit fees.

The proposal to require fingerprint-based background checks come as incidents of crimes involving Uber drivers make news, including an Uber driver accused of killing six people in Kalamazoo, Mich., last month. Uber points out that that driver, Jason Dalton, did not have a criminal record.

Uber and Lyft conduct their own background checks, in compliance with Georgia state law. Airport officials say taxi and limo drivers are already required to get fingerprint-based background checks.

Uber officials have said fingerprint checks for its part-time drivers would be cumbersome and expensive.

But Southwell said a requirement for fingerprint-based criminal background checks with the Georgia Department of Driver Services “gives everybody confidence in the system…. It really should be a welcome part of the process.”

Airport spokesman Reese McCranie said Uber and Lyft have the “option of not participating at the airport.”

Drawing a line

“We want to be open to all entrants at the airport, especially to meet customer demand, but we feel very strongly about the parameters under which we’ve set this proposed legislation,” McCranie said.

Uber and Lyft have vehemently opposed fingerprint-based background checks in other places, including in Broward County, Fla., where officials eventually removed the requirement, and in Austin and some smaller cities in Texas. Uber says it doesn’t face such requirements in more than 80 jurisdictions and 50 airports.

However, Southwell noted Uber complies with requirements for fingerprint-based background checks in Houston. Lyft pulled out of Houston over that and other requirements.

Lyft said it looks forward “to continuing our work together to reach a solution” that allows Lyft rides at the Atlanta airport. “We’re optimistic that we’ll find a way forward,” the company said.

One provision of the new rules is likely to generate opposition from taxi drivers: Ride-share vehicles and taxis would be required to be no more than seven years old to pick up at Hartsfield-Jackson. The airport expects that would disqualify about 60 percent of taxis in Atlanta.

“It’s going to be real tough for the drivers,” said taxi driver Sharmarke Yonis, founder of the Atlanta Taxi Workers Alliance Corp.

The airport is not mandating insurance for Uber X or Lyft drivers beyond what is required under Georgia state law.

The airport plans to present its proposed ordinance at an Atlanta City Council transportation committee meeting March 30.

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