San Francisco International Airport. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco International Airport. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

SFO renews permits for Uber, Lyft after criticizing flighty practices

San Francisco International Airport is granting permits to Uber and Lyft — while also calling their business practices unsafe.
SFO this year submitted legal filings with regulators saying that ride-hail companies need stricter rules to ensure the safety of passengers. This week, it granted Lyft and Uber permits to continue driving on its roads.

Taxi advocates say the split shows mixed signals — and SFO could do a lot more to enforce against scofflaw drivers.
The “pilot” permit program, renewed by SFO, allows Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and Wingz access to the airport. The permit lasts until February 2016.

“We call it a pilot permit, but there’s perhaps a better way to describe it,” said Doug Yakel, spokesman for SFO. It’s “a permit structure that allows us to make changes.”

The pilot’s temporary so the airport can modify rules when needed, he said, as the airport sees the effect of the nascent ride-hail business evolve. Even the state government regulators of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, as they’re legally called in California, are changing the laws all the time, Yakel said.

SFO has a hand in those laws as well. This year it submitted two opinions regarding TNCs to the California Public Utilities Commission. The CPUC is in the middle of a process to craft what it calls its “Phase II” regulations of tech transit companies, which it hopes to complete by the end of 2016.

You can read one of those opinions filed to the CPUC here.

Among those new laws potentially are stricter criminal background checks of Uber, Lyft and other TNC drivers, and stricter vehicle inspections — both of which SFO said were needed in filings to the CPUC.

“It’s still evolving,” Yakel said, of laws governing Uber and Lyft.

Taxi drivers and their representatives said Wednesday the airport can go further in calling for Uber and Lyft to play by the rules.

“They can impose their own rules and their own criteria,” said Barry Korengold, of the SF Taxi Workers Alliance. “They can have special rules because it’s an airport.”

The example the cabbies point to is the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, which requires drivers of ground transportation to be fingerprinted and have criminal background checks run through the Department of Justice database.

SFO has also asked TNCs to fingerprint their drivers in opinions to the CPUC.

San Jose took it a step further. Uber and Lyft use third party criminal checks, which utilize name and social security number searches. Because Uber and Lyft do not meet San Jose Airport’s standards, the airport tickets TNC drivers attempting to pick up passengers, according to its website.

Documents issued to the mayor of San Jose show that may soon change, and San Jose Airport may soon come to an agreement with TNCs to operate legally.

SFO hasn’t taken as strict a route with TNCs.“Our approach was to work through the CPUC,” Yakel said. “We’re not regulators, we’re an airport.”

SFO does have some rules governing TNCs. Uber, Lyft and others must wait in a designated area in order to use their cellphones to communicate with passengers, then must drive to the departures area to pick them up.

Yakel said restricting their location helps ease traffic congestion. In April, a total of 221,614 TNC airport trips were made by four companies, according to SFO’s filings with the CPUC.

Lyft representatives pointed out extensive explanations of SFO’s rules for its drivers on its website, which Uber also does.

But the taxi advocates released a video showing Uber and Lyft drivers flouting those rules, which various TV stations have also shown.

Yakel denies the various videos prove anything.

“I can tell you admonishments are issued on a near daily basis for all kinds of forms of transportation,” he said. “Let’s keep it in perspective.”

Above is a video created by taxi drivers to show what they say are TNC drivers (Uber, Lyft, etc.) disobeying SFO rules.

LyftSan Francisco International AirportSFOTNCsTransitTransportation Network CompaniesUber

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