In the next few weeks, my colleagues on the City Council are going to have an important decision to make in a fierce and pitched battle over business at Los Angeles International Airport between taxi companies and app-based rideshare companies.
If my colleagues simply listen to what passengers want, the decision will be easy – embrace the future, affirm the policy of the Board of Airport Commissioners, and let rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber pick up passengers at the airport.
More than a month ago, the commission approved a smart, thoughtful, balanced plan to allow transportation network companies, or so-called TNCs, to pick up passengers at LAX. Two weeks ago, my colleagues voted to put the policy on hold and review it themselves. I opposed that vote because I believe the commission’s plan would be good for passengers and for our city. In the coming discussions, I intend to be a strong advocate for giving passengers what they want – the option of using their smartphones to hail a car at the airport.
Since Mayor Eric Garcetti and I took office, we have worked with partners throughout the region to engage in a remarkable, multibillion-dollar makeover of LAX, with a game-changing ground transportation plan that includes: a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail connection, a people-moving tram system, a consolidated rental car center and an intermodal transportation facility. The airport’s transportation plan appropriately puts a premium on passenger choice and passenger convenience. Permitting passengers to choose rideshare companies at LAX is consistent with those principles.
Throughout Los Angeles, people of all ages are choosing to use rideshare companies, finding them convenient, clean, fun and simple to use. Lyft and Uber surely will be an important part of providing first mile-last mile connections to our growing mass-transit network, and the more people we can encourage to take mass transit, the less traffic there will be clogging up our roads. This is good for neighborhoods and it is good for local businesses. More and more people are choosing to live car free, routinely using their rideshare apps when they need to go somewhere mass transit does not. We should not construct a government roadblock for them at the airport.
The TNC plan approved by the airport commission took a careful look at a variety of issues, including passenger safety and the background checks TNCs perform on their drivers. The state Public Utilities Commission – which has regulatory authority over the companies – has mandated an extensive background review process for drivers. Yes, it is a different process than the one the taxi industry uses to vet their drivers, but there is no evidence that one process is qualitatively better than the other.
It is completely appropriate to have concerns about the safety of passengers who hire someone to give them a ride somewhere, and we should have an honest and holistic discussion that reviews the different background standards for taxis, rideshares, limousines, flyaway and charter buses, courtesy shuttles and more. That’s a legitimate discussion to have. But it’s not a fair discussion if it focuses just on TNCs and not other modes. (Notably, no one expressed any concerns about background checks for taxi drivers a few weeks ago when the City Council approved an extended franchise agreement for the taxi industry by three to five years.)
I appreciate that some of my colleagues support and even use rideshare companies, yet still have fair and legitimate concerns. When the airport commission began to craft its policy earlier this year, I had a few myself. I wanted to be sure that drivers served the public equally and would not be allowed to reject a passenger based on her or his destination. I insisted on safeguards to protect airport-adjacent neighborhoods from being flooded with drivers eagerly waiting to be hailed from the airport. The commission did a good and thorough job, addressed those concerns and developed a smart policy.
I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting that policy and making LAX the largest airport in the country to allow ridesharing companies. It will say a lot about who we are and what we value. It will show that the home to a growing tech industry truly embraces innovation. It will show that a city too long wedded to single-occupancy automobiles is finally encouraging and enabling people to live and move differently. And it will show that LAX is a place that puts passengers first.
Mike Bonin represents the Westside on the Los Angeles City Council and is chairman of the council’s Transportation Committee. He also is a director at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
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