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VOL. 129 | NO. 132 | Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Airport Authority Looking at Rideshare Policy

By Amos Maki

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The battle that has raged between ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber at airports across the country has finally landed at Memphis International Airport.

Airports across the U.S. are struggling with new ride-sharing options that compete with cabs. In Memphis, discussions are underway to figure out how the new services can work at the airport.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

For now, Lyft and Uber are prohibited from picking up passengers at Memphis International Airport, but that could change as airport and city officials develop policies for dealing with the emerging services.

While tech-savvy adults have grown accustomed to booking rides on apps to get to where they need to go, airports still often rely on strict rules that govern how taxis and other rides for hire pick up passengers at the nation’s airports.

Currently, airport policy requires a company that comes to the airport’s personal drive to pick up passengers and drive them somewhere for a fee to have a permit from the city and a contract with the airport.

“The problem with Memphis is that startups like Lyft and Uber and these new rideshare concepts is that they are so new here in Memphis that we don’t know what the permit should be nor what provisions should be in our contract,” said Brian Kuhn, general counsel for the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “Neither Uber nor Lyft has contacted the airport to say they want a contract. We are trying to determine how to balance what our customers want with public safety concerns in this matter. We want to find an answer to address all these concerns.”

For instance, the contracts Memphis International requires for services have direct costs such as fees for using the airport’s commercial drive and indirect costs to the company depending on what requirements the airport has in the contract for items like insurance.

Ham Smythe IV, president of Yellow Cab and Checker Cab, said businesses such as Lyft and Uber are trying to circumvent policies and procedures other vehicles for hire must adhere to. The Yellow Cab of Memphis blog has an entry titled “Scary Issues with Uber and Lyft.”

“The airport and city have very clear vehicle-for-hire policies, and in those cases, they are not insured or licensed in the way limos or taxis are,” Smythe said.

“What Lyft and Uber want to do is go around all of that and pick up in areas that are intended for you or me and not vehicles for hire. We just want to make sure all vehicles for hire are treated equally.”

Kuhn said the airport is doing its best to respond to emerging business and technology that is largely new to the Memphis area.

“We don’t have a contract for this type of business model yet as it just came to our attention recently, and the companies have not contacted us for a contract,” Kuhn said.

Kuhn was expected to host a closed-door conference call with airport officials from across the country Tuesday afternoon, July 8, in an attempt to develop a formula that would allow services such as Lyft and Uber to operate at Memphis International.

“Yes, we want to be able to provide any type of service that our customers would like to have in a safe and efficient manner,” Kuhn said. “We are not in the business of keeping companies that want to do business at the airport out. We just have to make sure they follow whatever laws and rules that are applicable to them in order to do business here.”

In a statement, Lyft representative Chelsea Wilson said the company would continue to educate communities about the benefit of services like Lyft and continue talks with airport officials across the country.

“Memphis residents have made ridesharing a part of their daily lives and have enthusiastically welcomed Lyft as a safe, affordable and convenient transportation option,” said Wilson in the statement. “We look forward to continuing productive and collaborative conversations with airports across the country to come to a conclusion that preserves a way forward for this community-powered transportation movement.”

Memphis is not alone in learning how to regulate the ridesharing services.

In June, the California Public Utilities Commission warned Uber, Lyft and other services that they could no longer be allowed to take riders to or from any airport in the state. In March, San Antonio police chief William McManus issued a “cease and desist” order to Lyft.

But ridesharing enthusiasts would like that airport and the companies to find a way to work together.

JR Kamra, 36, who goes by the Twitter handle @jkam12, wants to see the ridesharing services at Memphis International.

“I do feel that Lyft and Uber should be able to be used at the (airport),” Kamra said.

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