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Council Committee Upholds Airport Decision to Allow Uber, Lyft to Pick Up LAX Passengers

After a marathon packed hearing, a Los Angeles City Council committee late on Tuesday voted to uphold an airport commission decision to allow rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers from Los Angeles International Airport.

The council’s Trade, Commerce and Technology Committee’s surprising 3-2 vote before a packed chamber came at the end of a nearly five-hour hearing featuring scores of expert and public speakers.

With Tuesday’s vote, the only remaining hurdle before Uber and Lyft have complete access to LAX is the full City Council, which is scheduled to take up the policy next week. Mayor Eric Garcetti has already voiced his support.

Rideshare companies welcomed the council committee vote.

“This is a positive step toward bringing ridesharing to LAX and we appreciate the thoughtful debate that took place in today’s hearing,” said Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson.

But taxi companies said the vote moves the city closer to allowing a deeply flawed policy to take effect.

“Each time the City Council has been given a chance to remedy the policy and level the playing field, the council has chosen instead to take a pass,” said William Rouse, general manager for Yellow Cab of Los Angeles and the spokesman for the nine taxicab companies currently operating at LAX.

The commission’s plan would require rideshare drivers to pay a $4 fee for picking up or dropping off passengers at LAX, forced them to use the airport’s upper departures concourse and limited the number of rideshare vehicles that can wait on airport grounds for fares.

The central issue during Tuesday’s marathon hearing: whether there should be more stringent safety and background checks of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar drivers as a condition to pick up passengers at LAX.

Uber and Lyft drivers and other supporters pushed for the right to pick up passengers at LAX, saying passengers needed more choice and competition. Currently the rideshare companies can drop off passengers but are banned from picking them up. They argued that their current background check procedures mandated by the California Public Utilities Commission are adequate.

Taxicab drivers and other opponents said more stringent background checks were needed, pointing to recent revelations that four Uber drivers recently ticketed at LAX had prior criminal convictions. LAX has become one of the few places in the city where taxi drivers can reliably find fares, and taxi companies have been outspoken opponents of allowing the rideshare companies to operate at the airport.

“The system that’s been approved by the airport commission has zero ability to look for violent felonies that are more than seven years old,” Rouse said. “Anyone with violent felony convictions more than seven years old should be welcome to pick up passengers at LAX.”

The hearing was held because earlier this month, several councilmembers expressed concerns about the airport commission’s July 16 decision and convinced a total of 11 colleagues to intervene. The expectation was that the committee on Tuesday would vote to reject the airport commission decision or send it back for substantial revision.

But committee chair Bob Blumenfield proved to be the swing vote. He said that while some legitimate concerns were raised, there’s a very high bar to overturn city commission decisions and that bar was not met in this instance.

Instead, the committee voted to send a list of 10 recommendations to the full City Council, mostly dealing with additional background check requirements, such as accessing Department of Motor Vehicle driving records and federal fingerprint databases.

The council next week could vote to add these recommendations to the policy allowing Uber and Lyft to pick up LAX passengers or it could let the airport commission decision stand as is. Councilmembers could also vote to reject the airport commission’s decision, but that’s now viewed as unlikely given Tuesday’s committee vote.

Howard Fine
Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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