An op-ed piece in the April 10 Los Angeles Times supports granting transportation network companies (TNCs) immediate access to pick-up passengers at the Los Angeles International Airport.
The gist of the writer’s argument is that growing consumer demand warrants such expanded access. While the consumer desire/competition angle is a reasonable one, and certainly applies to ground transportation, missing from the article is the issue of how rules are fairly applied to taxis, limos and TNCs and why they haven’t been so far.
The giveaway in the article that renders it off-target is one paragraph, which I see as the smoking, glistening, nugget that flashes like a big blue light on a store candy aisle:
“It's true that Uber, Lyft and Sidecar aren't ideal corporate citizens. They've muscled their way onto the taxi scene; they've cut corners when it comes to background checks and drug testing for drivers; and they often treat their drivers — who are independent contractors — poorly. Nevertheless, ride-sharing services have become an invaluable part of the transit mix in this sprawling city of nearly 4 million people with just a handful of subway and light-rail lines.”
The word “Nevertheless” is a gaping, categorical dismissal of some really bad TNC behaviors and crimes as well as the real problem. It’s a careless segue to gloss over vital facts. The real issue is that TNCs operate like limos and taxis, but limos and taxis are subjected to more costly rules. That’s like telling JetBlue it can pay lower FAA/airport landing fees, or be exempted entirely, because it’s a discount airline and people like it, while requiring United Airlines, a longstanding traditional airline, to pay the standard fees.
As Americans, we all instinctively grasp the concept of fairness and equality before the law, which applies to corporations as well as to people, with all due credit to Mitt Romney.
So if the writer of the op-ed piece wants to see TNCs pick up at LAX, then Uber, UberX, Sidecar, Lyft and any other TNC should follow standard limousine/charter party practices:
- Carry auto liability insurance by an A-Rated, California-admitted commercial insurance carrier. The purpose of auto and general liability insurance by A-rated, California admitted carriers (required by Los Angeles World Airports for limousine companies), is to protect the general public as well as LAX.
- Carry general liability insurance in the amount of $1 million.
- Carry Workers’ Comp insurance for employees. Limousine companies are required to carry such insurance for their employees. Workers’ comp insurance in California costs $40/per $100 of payroll.
- Be limited to two years of license duration. No special extensions.
- Pay for a Los Angeles City permit (license) which would require payment of fees based on the number of vehicles they put on the road, just like limousine companies.
- Display their California Public Utilities Commission-issued TCP numbers on the front and rear bumpers of every vehicle being driven for them.
- Be subject to LAWA law enforcement program at all airports.
- Use paper waybills (unless electronic waybills are allowed for limousine companies and TNCs).
- Adopt extensive driver criminal background checks based on FBI standards and driver drug testing.
- Abide by all federal Department of Labor independent contractor rules, standards and definitions and all legal precedents established by adjudicated lawsuits (FedEx), OR convert all drivers to paid W-2 employees.
There are many more rules followed by limousine companies and charter-party carriers in California, but you get the idea. Like consumers, government regulators also have many choices at their disposal: They could consider the above bullet points and decide to re-regulate, de-regulate, co-regulate, or modify. They could streamline permitting and processing across state, local and airport jurisdictions. They could ramp up enforcement against illegal operators.
Once chauffeured cars, taxis, shuttles and TNCs are subject to comparable standards, then it will be time for TNCs to pick up at LAX. In such a fair competitive scenario, an arriving passenger can choose: Pre-arrange a reserved limousine ride with chauffeur greeting; stand in a taxi line; buy a ticket for an airport shuttle bus ride or shared-ride van; OR press an app to access any of the above or any TNC.
It shouldn’t be that complicated when you think about it. Pressing an app for a ride is just like using a courtesy phone to stay at an airport hotel, whether it's luxury, mid-range or budget.
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