SFO tells ridesharing companies to scram until permits sorted out

Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. ExaminerWhile some ridesharing services say they’re willing to obtain SFO permits

Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. ExaminerWhile some ridesharing services say they’re willing to obtain SFO permits

Local ridesharing companies are again being hit with cease-and-desist orders, this time from San Francisco International Airport.

Businesses such as Lyft and Sidecar — which rely on smartphone applications and independent drivers, and were recently cleared by the California Public Utilities Commission to operate within the state — have become an increasingly large presence at SFO. Unlike registered cabs and limousines, the ridesharing companies have not engaged in the permitting process to operate at the hub.

To address the issue, the airport has demanded that six different ridesharing companies quit their SFO operations until further notice.

“It’s not fair for the cab companies that go through the permitting process to compete with these unregistered vehicles,” said airport spokesman Doug Yakel. “Not only are we talking about the limited space at the airport, but also the safety of our passengers.”

A trip to the airport can result in a $50 fare for cabs, but drivers must pay nominal fees each time they enter and exit the hub as part of the permitting process overseen by the CPUC. SFO wants all ridesharing companies to be certified by the CPUC before operating at the airport.

If the companies do not comply, they could be charged with unlawful trespassing, Yakel said.

Mark Gruberg, a spokesman for the United Taxicab Workers organization, applauded the move.

“These companies are operating without any authority and without any licensing,” Gruberg said. “It’s a really positive step that the airport is acting responsibly to make sure these businesses pay fees and are permitted like all the rest of us.”

Of the six companies issued cease-and-desist orders—Lyft, Sidecar, Uber, Instantcab, Flightcar and Tickengo—about half have indicated a willingness to work with the CPUC on the permitting process, Yakel said.

In a statement made on its website, Sidecar implied that it would continue its normal operations.

“We believe the right to share resources is an important principal for the entire sharing economy, so we’re pushing on,” the statement read. “We’re going to defend the right to share resources to regulators, in court, to SFO and anyone else who stands in the path of innovation.”

Yakel said the airport’s intention is not to stymie innovation.

“We’re certainly interested in entertaining new business models,” Yakel said. “We just want to make sure that everyone goes through the same process.”

Last year, the CPUC issued cease-and-desist orders against several companies, including Lyft and Sidecar. That order was suspended in January while the regulator crafts new rules for the burgeoning ridesharing industry.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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