Under the six-month waiver, taxicabs can be up to 10 years old instead of the previous 7 years old. That means taxi drivers with cabs approaching the 7-year limit would not have to replace their vehicles, and older cabs picking up passengers in downtown and other parts of the city also could be used to pick up passengers at the airport.
Before the waiver expires, the Atlanta airport manager will review conditions for taxis to determine whether to ask for an extension.
“It is a very difficult environment to try to make some profit here at Hartsfield-Jackson,” Selden said.
But, he said, taxis provide a service for travelers who want to just walk out the door of the terminal without dealing with smartphone technology to get a ride.
He said extending the taxicab age limit right now is “not only good for the airport, but good for the taxi drivers," to give them a break until the economy recovers.
While cabs elsewhere in the city can be older, the stricter rules apply for airport pickups.
Though the city council transportation committee last week voted in favor of the measure, some raised concerns about the age of cabs.
Council member Amir Farokhi said taxicabs are sometimes “one of our first impressions we give to visitors," and that, in his personal experience, the taxicab fleet is “not really best in class.”
Council transportation committee chair Andre Dickens said those who take taxis “want them to be nice and clean," but added that because of the decline in traffic, “the vehicles are not getting as many miles on them." Selden said cabs are still inspected annually.
Taxi drivers have been pushing for years for a loosening of the vehicle age cap at the airport. The cab age limit was previously 10 years before being lowered in 2017 to 7 years, and taxi drivers have said they can’t afford to buy new cars every 7 years.
Even before COVID-19 hit, taxis have for years had steep declines in business as Uber and Lyft expanded.
The pandemic significantly worsened the situation. In the April-June 2020 quarter, there were only 8,752 taxi pickups at the airport, down more than 94% from 152,077 a year earlier.
Uber and Lyft pickups were also down, by about 89%.
There are more than 700 taxi drivers registered at the airport, but only about 150 passenger pickups a day from there, according to Selden.
“Honestly, you don’t see too many cab drivers right now,” said taxi driver and advocate Sharmarke Yonis. “How can you afford to be paying those bills when all the revenue is gone?”
Yonis said of the cab age extension, “six months is OK,” but other issues still keep many cabbies from being able to make a living.
“Most cab drivers, they are not driving taxis,” because of the lack of business and high insurance costs for cabs, he said. “They’re driving trucks and school buses and Uber Eats.”
Taxi drivers who still pick up passengers at the airport queue up in lines with dozens of other cabs at a taxi hold lot and wait for hours to pick up a single ride, he said.
Ndubueze Alaka, a former Atlanta cab driver who advocated for drivers at the airport, said he can’t see himself returning to the industry.
“This is an industry that is practically dead, because there is virtually no money to be made," Alaka said.