When the Los Angeles City Council gave the green light for Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing services to pick up passengers at Los Angeles International Airport last week, there was talk about streamlining regulations for taxicab drivers so they could compete on a more equal footing.

That might eventually happen, but in the short run, there’s likely to be more regulatory pain for taxi drivers and other transportation providers. Tucked away in the amendments that the council passed along with the motion approving ridesharing services was an order for the city’s airport agency to develop a 24-7 complaint hotline for all ground transportation services at LAX. No such hotline currently exists.

The impetus for the amendment by Councilman Paul Krekorian were anecdotes from Uber and Lyft passengers who say they’ve been harassed by drivers. But now, taxicab drivers, shuttle services, limousines will all be included in this hotline.

It gets even more high-stakes from there: Another Krekorian amendment says that if certain ground transportation providers get too many complaints, they could have their permit to operate at the airport revoked.

So far, taxi companies are welcoming these provisions.

“We have zero problem with a customer complaint hotline,” said William Rouse, general manager of Yellow Cab of Los Angeles, who has become a spokesman for local cab companies on the ridesharing issue. “Every cab already has a big sign inside with both a number to call at the company and at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.”

As for the prospect of having a license revoked if too many complaints come in, Rouse said, “We’ll just have to see how that plays out.”

Though taxi companies remain opposed to ridesharing at the airport, cabs will still have at least one slight advantage under another rule OK’d by the council last week: While cabs can use the airport’s lower concourse, Uber and Lyft will be restricted to the upper departure level at LAX.

That means once passengers grab their bags and head out of the airport, they will only see taxis, limos and shuttles. To get to their Uber or Lyft pickup points, riders will have to schlep their luggage upstairs.

How much of an advantage this will give taxis remains to be seen. After all, most rideshare pickups will likely be arranged by smartphone before the passenger ever leaves the baggage-claim area.

Yellow Cab’s Rouse said it was a nonissue and that the bigger concern for cabs is the lack of curb space on the arrival level. But it was enough of a concern for Uber and Lyft that they both opposed the provision.

Fraud Fight Funded

In welcome news for employers, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has received a 10 percent boost in funds – to $6.5 million – to fight workers’ compensation fraud.

It’s part of a statewide 10 percent increase in funds for the 2015-16 fiscal year from the California Department of Insurance specifically allocated to fight workers’ comp fraud.

“These grants will assist district attorneys across the state in uncovering workers’ compensation fraud schemes and prosecuting those who take advantage of the system,” state Insurance Commissioner David Jones said.

Employers get hit with workers’ compensation fraud in several ways, chiefly when a worker claims an injury that didn’t actually happen or exaggerates the scope of an injury. There’s also medical provider fraud, especially billing for treatments never approved or given. Either way, employers ultimately pick up the tab through higher premiums.

But employers, too, could find themselves in prosecutors’ cross-hairs. Some businesses have been caught under-reporting their payrolls to avoid paying the proper premium.

Tobacco Trouble

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles City Council voted to crack down on enforcement of the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to minors. Under the new rules, a tobacco retailer’s license can be suspended for 30 days on the first offense and 90 days for the second. Retailers used to get a warning first.

But now, the other shoe could be ready to drop, making the tobacco retailer’s job much tougher. Councilman Paul Koretz on Aug. 21 introduced a motion to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco cigarettes – though not other tobacco products – to 21 from 18. Not only would retailers have to step up their carding and age verification efforts, but, thanks to the toughening of penalties, there would be zero room for error.

Similar legislation is also in the works in Sacramento to raise the legal smoking age to 21 statewide. That proposal passed the Senate last week and awaits action in the Assembly.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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