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

The Los Angeles City Council cleared the way Tuesday for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers directly from LAX as soon as this fall.

The City Council voted 9-6 to affirm the Airport Commission’s July 16 decision to adopt the language of an agreement allowing ride-hailing companies to legally operate at Los Angeles International Airport.

Up to now, LAX passengers have been able to use ride-hailing companies to get dropped off at the airport, but only transportation companies with permits could legally make pickups.

Ride-hailing companies will now join other transportation providers — such as taxis, shuttle vans and limousines — that serve LAX, which will become the largest airport to permit such transportation services.

Lyft issued a statement saying “consumers won today, and we applaud the City Council for welcoming ridesharing to the airport.”

Uber spokesman Michael Amodeo said the company aims to “provide Angelenos the option of requesting a safe, reliable and affordable ride with uberX from LAX in the coming weeks.”

The City Council re-examined the commission’s decision after some council members raised concerns that ride-hailing companies do not employ adequate background checks for drivers.

The council did agree Tuesday to explore a possible city ordinance to require ride-hailing driver background checks to include fingerprint-based screening, and to urge the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates ride-hailing companies, to adopt new policies that require fingerprinting.

One of the council’s options was to veto the plan, which would have required the support of 10 members. The veto was supported by only seven members.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, who had called for the City Council to intervene in the Airport Commission’s action, said Tuesday that companies like Uber and Lyft should add “Livescan” fingerprinting to their background checks.

Krekorian said the step is required for opening a game arcade, a dancing academy or a skating academy, as well as “if you want to volunteer in your neighborhood park.” But the process used by ride-hailing companies “allows random strangers to pick up people throughout our city and now at LAX without the person getting in the car having the slightest idea what that person’s record is and who they are.”

“Hardly anyone hitchhikes anymore because of the danger of getting into a stranger’s car, but as soon as that stranger responds to us over our smart phone, suddenly that becomes a safe thing? No it isn’t — not without a fingerprint based background check,” he said.

Taxi drivers who must adhere to stricter city regulations have lobbied against allowing ride-hailing companies in the city and at LAX. One cabbie told the council that with ride-hailing companies allowed at the airport, “I’ll no longer be able to make it as a professional cab driver.”

Councilman Mike Bonin, who supports ride-hailing services at LAX, said fingerprinting-based background checks can be flawed and defended the Airport Commission’s decision as a “great work of problem-solving.”

“Customers or passengers at our airport have suffered for too long with too few choices, and they demand more choices,” he said.

Bonin said Uber and Lyft have been “enormously popular” and “people are baffled by the fact they can take a rideshare to the airport but can’t take one home from the airport.”

Councilman Paul Koretz, who has long been critical of ride-hailing companies, said allowing Uber and Lyft at the city-owned LAX was a rare opportunity for city leaders to consider stronger regulations for such companies and urged his colleagues to use that as leverage.

The city is otherwise powerless to improve upon regulations adopted by the PUC, which has jurisdiction on the companies, Koretz said.

But Councilman Bob Blumenfield, who voted in favor of the plan, called today’s action “a win for consumers.”

Blumenfield said he supported examining the agreement, but ultimately, “for me, the most important voice was that of the consumer.”

Ride-hailing customers are eager for pick-ups at LAX to begin, according to drivers who attended a recent City Council hearing on the issue. Passengers frequently cite the lower cost and ability to book trips and pay for them via their phones, they said.

Because ride-hailing companies are not allowed to pick up passengers directly from the airport, their passengers skirt the restriction by arranging to be picked up at locations near LAX.

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

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced in his “State of the City” speech in April that ride-hailing companies should be allowed to pick up passengers at LAX. He called the ride-hailing agreement approved by the Airport Commission “part of my agenda to make getting around L.A. easier, faster and more affordable.”

— City News Service 

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