An Uber driver. Photo courtesy of Uber
An Uber driver. Photo courtesy of Uber

The City Council temporarily put the brakes Wednesday on a plan to allow ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers from LAX so the city can further scrutinize passenger safety, disability access and other issues.

The council voted 11-2 to assert authority over an Airport Commission decision last month to allow ride-hailing companies to make pick-ups alongside taxis, shuttle vans and other transportation services at Los Angeles International Airport, which would become the largest airport in the country to permit such operations.

The move to halt the plan was spearheaded by Councilman Paul Krekorian and backed by five council colleagues who claimed “significant questions remain” as to “the propriety of mandating background checks, clean fleet requirements, non-discrimination and equality of access,” among other issues.

Council members Mike Bonin, whose district includes the airport, and David Ryu voted against the action.

The city’s Transportation, Commerce and Technology Committee will discuss the issue Aug. 18 before the matter returns to the full council.

Krekorian said the Airport Commission “wholly ignored” concerns he raised along with fellow Councilman Paul Koretz about whether ride-hailing companies are adequately regulated to ensure the safety of passengers.

Krekorian and Koretz sent a joint letter to the commission last month saying they would not support an agreement that lacked certain safety regulations that is “substantially similar” to one imposed on taxi companies, including provisions addressing disability access, insurance, environmental requirements and other issues.

Bonin said he supports the Airport Commission’s agreement, saying it contains requirements for “background check information” and institutes “very smart and innovative protections for neighborhoods around the airport.”

“I think there’s a lot of smart stuff here. I think as we delve into it, the rest of you will see a lot of that,” he said. “I look forward to having a robust discussion, but I will be voting no today.”

Uber drivers clad in blue and pink-shirted Lyft drivers filled the council chamber to speak against the action, while a contingent of taxi drivers — many of whom have complained ride-hailing companies skirt city regulations and have an unfair competitive advantage — also made a showing, though only a few spoke publicly on the issue.

Ride-hailing drivers said pick-ups at LAX are among the top requests made by passengers, who they say enjoy the low cost, payment methods and the ability to book trips on their phones.

Many said passengers often arrange to be picked up at a location near LAX, since ride-hailing companies are not currently allowed to pick up passengers directly from the airport.

“It’s kind of like, everybody wants a cheeseburger from McDonald’s — everybody wants it. It’s just something that needs to happen. I think a lot of people like the convenience of it,” Lyft driver Brandon Bailey told City News Service.

Bailey said Lyft does background checks that flag a driver’s criminal history, and the company operates a mentorship program to ensure the quality of drivers.

Despite the council’s action today, Uber spokesman Michael Amodeo said the company is hoping to see ride-hailing services incorporated at LAX by the end of summer.

“Riders and driver-partners across Los Angeles have voiced their strong support for more safe, affordable transportation options like uberX at LAX,” Amodeo said.

Lyft also issued a statement calling on the council “to move quickly and make options like Lyft available for Los Angeles travelers.”

Koretz said that no matter what he feels about ride-hailing companies, “they are going to wind up at the airport,” but he noted that the Airport Commission-adopted agreement is a rare opportunity for city leaders to consider stronger regulations for such companies.

The city is otherwise powerless to improve upon regulation adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission, which has jurisdiction on the companies.

The CPUC “put in the most minuscule level of regulations and prevented cities from going further for reasons that are not apparent to me,” according to Koretz.

Koretz’s position received a boost this morning, with the Los Angeles Times reporting that at least four men who received citations from Airport Police while driving for Uber have criminal convictions that would bar them from operating a taxi in Los Angeles.

The drivers were convicted of child exploitation, identity theft, manslaughter and driving under the influence, according to court records cited by The Times.

Ride-hailing companies are allowed to drop people off at LAX, but only transportation companies with permits can legally make pickups.

To obtain a permit under the Airport Commission-approved agreement, ride- hailing companies would need to have an active permit from the California Public Utilities Commission, sufficient insurance coverage, pay a $4-per-trip fee and a monthly licensing fee and follow other requirements.

Garcetti announced in his State of the City speech in April that he intended to allow ride-hailing companies to pick up passengers at LAX. The ride- hailing agreement approved by the Airport Commission is “part of my agenda to make getting around L.A. easier, faster and more affordable,” Garcetti said after the panel’s vote.

—City News Service

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