The sharing economy is still encountering turbulence at the Atlanta airport.
Officers at Hartsfield-Jackson International have issued more than 300 citations to Uber and Lyft drivers trying to pick up passengers in recent months, according to airport officials.
The latest tally comes as the city of Atlanta, which owns the airport, continues work on a plan to allow and regulate ride-share pick-ups there. Last winter the airport’s previous top manager said he hoped to have such rules in place by July 1, but he was fired in the spring and that didn’t happen.
For now, airport and city officials say pick-ups at Hartsfield-Jackson by ride-share drivers for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft remain unauthorized and illegal.
Uber argues there is no rule prohibiting ride-share operations at Hartsfield-Jackson, and it continues to enable pick-ups.
The dispute has left travelers and ride-share drivers in the middle, with pick-ups happening amid spotty citations.
According to the airport, the Atlanta Police Department’s Vehicles for Hire section issued 306 citations to Uber or Lyft drivers from March 13 of this year, when it began tracking the citations, through June 25.
Uber has been paying the fines of $423 including court fees, for drivers who plead nolo contendere, or no contest.
Atlanta City Council members voiced frustration on the issue at a recent meeting. City officials are working on a proposal to legalize and regulate the operations and are talking with Uber, Lyft, taxi and limo representatives.
The airport maintains that pick-ups are not allowed by ride-share drivers that don’t have commercial permits, such as those issued to taxi and limo drivers. Uber disagrees, arguing that its service is different.
Waste of police time?
Uber spokeswoman Evangeline George issued a statement saying: “As work progresses on a framework that is consistent with the state law passed last year, Uber will continue to offer the safe, reliable and affordable transportation option that travelers have come to expect at Atlanta’s world-class airport.”
Even as Uber and Lyft seek to discuss the issue with the city, council member C.T. Martin said the companies are not abiding by the rules.
“I’d like to know how [Uber and Lyft] justify being so arrogant,” Martin said during a transportation committee briefing. “They’re all saying, ‘We don’t care what you want. We’re going to do what we want.’ That’s a concern.”
“It’s a waste of police resources, frankly,” committee chair Yolanda Adrean said.
Officers who cite drivers for operating without a commercial permit have in the past impounded cars, leaving customers stuck at the curb.
“Our position is that at this time, our operations are in compliance with all laws,” said Nick Juliano, Uber public affairs manager for the Southeast.
Lyft also says it questions whether there are legal restrictions on its operations.
Plan in the works
The city and airport have been working for more than a year to develop new rules to legalize Uber and Lyft pickups.
Hartsfield-Jackson’s former general manager, Miguel Southwell, introduced a proposal in the spring with plans to legalize ride-share pickups by July 1. Ride-share firms immediately objected to a part of the plan requiring that all drivers undergo fingerprint-based background checks, saying their own screening is adequate and such checks would hurt recruiting because they are cumbersome and time-consuming.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Southwell in May, and city officials said they plan to rework the proposal.
Among the issues also to be hashed out is where Uber drivers will be permitted to pick up passengers under a new regulated system. The airport had earlier this year proposed to designate certain curbside spaces for pickups, with a geofence requirement to keep Uber and Lyft drivers from clogging airport roads and lots waiting for ride requests.
But Uber and others raised concerns about that provision, saying the initial proposal for 9 pick-up spaces at the domestic terminal and 3 pick-up spaces at the international terminal was too limited.
“I don’t see why there’s such a limitation on where a TNC [transportation network company] can pick up,” Adrean said.
With a number of issues to resolve over fingerprint-based background checks versus the ride-share companies’ private checks and how Uber and Lyft pickups would work at the airport, the city’s proposal now isn’t expected to be ready for another few weeks. It would then be subject to review and approval by the Atlanta City Council.