News and notes from Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport

Debate over airport regulation of Uber, Lyft headed for Atlanta city council committee

The debate over Hartsfield-Jackson International's proposed plan to legalize and regulate Uber X and Lyft pickups at the airport is about to heat up at an Atlanta city council committee meeting this week.

Atlanta city council transportation committee chair Yolanda Adrean said she expects a number of people to make public comments on the matter at the committee's meeting Wednesday. It will be just the start of the committee's process to consider the airport's proposal, with more discussion expected at the committee's next meeting April 27.

Hartsfield-Jackson aims to legalize Uber X and Lyft pickups by July 1.

But one of the main points of contention is the Atlanta airport's proposed requirement to require fingerprint-based background checks of Uber X and Lyft drivers.

Both companies have objected to the airport's proposed plan, saying it would be "extremely difficult" or "impossible" to operate at the airport under such regulations.

The debate on policies for ride-share pickups at the world's busiest airport could have broad implications for regulations at other airports around the country.

"There's a high level of interest, not only in our city and for our airport, but actually it's part of a bigger national conversation," Adrean said.

Adrean said she supports a requirement for fingerprint-based background checks.

"Airports are soft spots in this day and age," Adrean said. "Because we're such a large international airport, I just think that it's our responsibility to make sure that anyone who's serving the public has appropriate checks. The fingerprinting is consistent with what's required of cab drivers and other people who work at the airport."

If Uber stops serving the world's busiest airport as a result of the requirement, "We can't stop them from their decisions... We have to be responsible to the public," Adrean said. "Businesses need to make their own business decisions."

Transportation committee member C.T. Martin said he is "a firm believer that they should have background checks," Martin said. "These days with security, there needs to be fingerprinting on everybody."

But, he added, "We're a long ways from having all the information we need."

One of the airport's goals is a level-playing field for transportation providers.

Transportation committee member Felicia Moore said she thinks the proposal includes measures "that would make each side of the issue unhappy," including taxis, limos, shuttles, and Uber and Lyft. "So I suspect that if everyone has a little bit of unhappiness, you're probably about right."

But, she added, "I want to make sure in the process of vetting it, we get an opportunity to hear the objections, and make sure that if we're going to pass it, we understand the implications of those objections."

Uber argues that its driver background checks, which do not require fingerprints, are in compliance with Georgia law.

Uber added that if the airport's proposal goes into effect, "it will be impossible for Uber to continue providing the safe, reliable and efficient transportation options that travelers have come to expect and demand from a world-class airport like Hartsfield-Jackson."

The proposal, Uber said, "would raise substantial barriers" to Uber drivers "and is out of step with the dozens of airports across the country" with ride-sharing agreements.

Lyft also said the proposed plan "will make it extremely difficult for Lyft to operate."

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Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.