The battle between traditional and app-based car services has moved to the region’s airports.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is considering allowing Uber, Lyft and similar services to operate at Regan National and Dulles International airports. The agency, which manages both airports, held a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday.
As in past public meetings about the app-based services, representatives from the taxi industry voiced concerns about unfair competition and reiterated complaints that rideshare drivers are not subjected to the same level of regulation, licensing, background checks and insurance requirements as cab drivers.
For their part, Uber and Lyft told MWAA officials that their drivers are carefully vetted, carry insurance and provide a service that is in great demand.
MWAA has proposed adding designated waiting areas for rideshare vehicles so drivers can arrange trips with passengers while already on airport property. This would help reduce customer wait time, officials said.
Under the proposal, rideshare companies would pay a $5,000 one-time fee for a special permit from the airports authority and their drivers would be required to pay a $5 access fee for each pick-up and drop-off.
The proposal also would open up access to traditional limousine services.
Donald Griffin, general business specialist at MWAA, said the plan aims to address growing demand for ground transportation services at the airports and to provide equitable access to transportation network companies like Uber.
The proposed rules would also bring the airports’ policy in alignment with recently adopted regulations in the District, Virginia and Maryland, he said.
In addition, the changes would bring the app-based services in line with requirements that other ground transportation services such as taxis are subjected to, MWAA said.
At Wednesday’s afternoon hearing– one of four hearings this week– objections to some aspects of the proposal were raised by both taxi and rideshare advocates.
An Uber driver said the proposed $5 pick-up and drop-off fee is too high and would impact drivers’ paychecks. By comparison, taxi drivers pay $3 for access to the airport, according to a taxi company owner.
Michael Masserman, director of international government relations at Lyft also said the proposed $5 pick-up/drop-off fee is high compared to fees set at other airports. He said they generally range from $2 to $3. If the concern is that the airport won’t be able to collect the fees from all the drivers entering the airport, he said, Lyft has technology with geofencing capabilities to capture when people are doing pick-ups and drop-off.
“This is an area where we can level the playing field,” Masserman said. He said it would be fair to pay what taxi drivers pay for access to the airport.
Others questioned the level of background checks Uber drivers are subjected to and how that could become a liability for the airports.
State Del. Dave Albo, a Fairfax attorney representing a local taxi company, said rideshare drivers are not subjected to the FBI fingerprint checks required of taxi drivers. The airports, he said, could be sued in the event that a rideshare driver commits a crime against a passenger picked at the airport.
Others, including Albo and James Cooper, with the D.C. Taxicab Commission, said the big question is how the proposed regulations will be enforced.
“Regulations don’t matter if you don’t enforce them,” Albo said.
The proposed amendments to the ground transportation policy do not effect current cab regulations. Taxi operators who want to be part of the taxicab dispatch system at Reagan National can do so as long as they obtain a permit from MWAA. Under the new proposal, however, the airport manager will have authority to suspend the issuance of new permits when it is determined that there is no need for additional taxi operators in the system.
The last public hearing is at 7 p.m. tonight at Reagan National Terminal A. The airports authority will continue to accept written comments until June 22. Those can be sent to Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Office of General Counsel, 1 Aviation Circle, Washington, DC 20001-6000 or to AuthorityRegulations@mwaa.com.