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Ride Share Cos. Must Land Permit at Airport

San Diego International Airport officials are examining how to respond to the fast-changing world of transportation services, now being disrupted by mobile app-enabled ride companies — such as Lyft and Uber — that compete with traditional taxis and shuttles.

Airport officials emphasize, however, that there is no immediate welcome in store for the companies, which have recently drawn the ire of the California Public Utilities Commission for alleged violations of new rules established by the state last September.

“There are no plans to allow these companies to operate at the airport until they have been permitted like all other ground transportation providers currently operating at the airport,” said Rebecca Bloomfield, spokeswoman for the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

In the meantime, airport officials are discussing how to adjust current transportation permitting processes, following the state PUC’s move to create a new category, called transportation network companies, as the state establishes regulatory policies related to the tech-enabled private-ride providers.

The services, which enable customers to book rides through their mobile devices after registering credit card and other information, compete with taxi and shuttle providers that pay fees for the privilege of operating at San Diego International.

No Airport Clearance

None of the private-ride services currently hold a permit to conduct business at the airport, and none pay fees to the airport authority.

The PUC established rules calling for the ride providers to obtain a state license to operate in California, and to maintain at least $1 million in vehicle liability insurance. The utilities commission also set requirements for criminal background checks of drivers, driver training programs, vehicle inspections and zero-tolerance policies on drug and alcohol use.

The companies must also obtain authorization from airports before conducting any operations on airport property or going into any airport.

In a recent letter sent to leaders of the ride-sharing companies, including Lyft and Uber, PUC President Michael Peevey warned that the companies were in apparent violation of the agency’s new rules regarding unauthorized airport services.

Peevey noted that PUC staff met in early June with law enforcement personnel from five major California airports, including San Diego International, and the airport officials “described numerous contacts” that airport police have had with drivers from the private-ride companies over the past year.

‘Evidence’ of Violations

“The airports have strong documentary evidence that your drivers have been operating at airports without an airport permit,” Peevey said. “In the CPUC’s September decision, we made clear that each [transportation network company] must abide by airport rules.”

As of June 10, Peevey said, none of the companies had obtained a permit from the airports to transport passengers to or from them.

The private ride providers are opposed by industry groups including the Maryland-based Airport Ground Transportation Association, which recently warned that the services are “exposing airport authorities across the U.S. to liability risk” by unlawfully transporting airport customers.

Permit Talks

The ride service companies have indicated that they are in talks with airports in California to obtain permits and abide by the new regulations.

According to a local airport authority staff report, 51 citations have been written against unauthorized ride-service pickups at San Diego International since January. An additional 14 citations were issued in May by the Harbor Police Department and the Metropolitan Transit System, primarily for infractions such as operating without a valid airport permit and operating without commercial vehicle insurance.

San Diego airport officials are now looking to adjust policies to reflect the recent state-enacted changes, and more clarity could be in place by year’s end.

Among other potential revisions, the airport authority is mulling a staff recommendation to boost penalties for drivers and ride-service companies not possessing the proper ground transportation permits, with amounts still to be determined.

Under current regulations, repeated violations of rules regarding unauthorized airport transportation services can draw punishments including county jail terms of up to six months, fines up to $1,000 and the impounding of vehicles.

Officials said the authority is enforcing its parking regulations for unauthorized passenger pickups by transportation network companies, and continues to require the ride services to comply with PUC rules. It is also working with other local government jurisdictions to regulate the services.

At press time, the California utilities commission was considering further adjustments to its rules established last year, including the insurance coverage provision. Under a current proposal, the requirement could be met through a combination of the companies’ insurance and their drivers’ own coverage, as long as the policy is specifically written to cover transportation network companies.

State insurance officials have noted, however, that such specific coverage is not currently offered in California.

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