After LAX allows UberX pick-ups, taxi drivers brace for 'trouble'

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After months of delays, Uber’s low-cost service started picking up passengers at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday morning. Travelers were delighted, but taxi drivers were not.

“It spells trouble for us," said William Rouse, general manager of Yellow Cab of Los Angeles, the city's largest taxicab company.

While cab drivers might worry about Uber cutting into their profits, the cabbie business at LAX is currently strong, Rouse said. Yellow Cab pick-ups were up 7 percent last month versus January of 2015, even with competition from the ride-sharing service Lyft at LAX.

"That airport has grown considerably in overall passenger volume, and taxicabs today are taking more passengers out of the airport than they ever have,” said Rouse.

LAX represented the last stand for local taxis. While business as a whole dropped 18 percent after Lyft and Uber came to town in 2013, airport rides during the same period were up 15 percent, according to the UCLA Labor Center. It helps that those are the most lucrative trips for drivers.

"Airports are one of the prized sites for earnings for taxi drivers," a July 2015 policy brief from the UCLA Labor Center said. "Drivers are given access to the airport one day of the week known as their 'airport day.' Drivers typically earn more money due to longer fares, and they tend to work longer days."

Rouse knows taxis can’t compete on price – Uber just lowered fares in Los Angeles 10 percent – so his main selling point to riders: Taxis are safer than ride-sharing companies.

"They continue using a weak background check system that does not even have the possibility of considering convictions that are over seven years old," said Rouse. "There's no doubt that there are certain consumers who choose [ridesharing companies] in spite of their obvious risks."

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment but on the company's website it promises a strong commitment to safety; "In the US, potential Uber driver-partners are required to undergo a screening process, which includes a driving and criminal history check that covers county, federal, and multi-state databases," the company wrote.

One thing that has irked riders about Lyft pickups at LAX is they can only catch rides on the departure level. Because of that, both companies have to charge passengers a $4 dollar fee for every ride. That money gets passed along to the airport and presumably will help offset revenue lost from parking, which has been a problem at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport.

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