Politics

LA City Council approves plan to allow Uber, Lyft at LAX

Taxi supporters in yellow and Uber and Lyft supporters in blue and pink pack the chambers of City Council for Tuesday's vote on whether to allow rideshare at LAX.
Taxi supporters in yellow and Uber and Lyft supporters in blue and pink pack the chambers of City Council for Tuesday's vote on whether to allow rideshare at LAX.
Meghan McCarty/KPCC

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A plan allowing rideshare services to pick up passengers at LAX is moving forward after the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve it Tuesday.

Uber and Lyft must still apply for airport permits before passengers can hail a ride from the services at the terminal.

“Today, the Council embraced rather than hindered new technologies to provide the safe and convenient access Angelenos demand," said Councilman Bob Blumenfield.

Whether to allow rideshare services to pick up LAX passengers has been hotly debated since the airport announced its plan to issue permits to the companies last month.

Although the city regulates and licenses taxis, it doesn't have the same authority over rideshare operators as the California Public Utilities Commission. So the City Council invoked its power to review the airport's plan and possibly impose additional requirements.

Several council members had expressed disappointment that the airport's plan to license the rideshare operations did not require fingerprinting of drivers. The city requires it of taxi companies.

The airport itself does not currently require any transportation service — whether taxis, limos or shuttles — to fingerprint their drivers. 

Many of the spectators present at Tuesday's vote were from the taxi industry, which has fought hard to keep rideshare services out of LAX, which they see as their last advantage over rideshare companies.

"The airport is what sustains us," said Leon Slomovic, a taxi driver for the last 12 years. He worries that the entire taxi industry could now be in jeopardy.

When the City Council voted to let the airport's plan stand, it also included a stipulation urging the utilities commission to consider fingerprinting requirements and best practices for background checks for rideshare companies. The council also called for streamlining city regulations on taxis to level the playing field.

Anyone can drop passengers off at the airport, but Lyft's and Uber's services using non-commercial vehicles had been blocked from picking up passengers. Many people got around that restriction by taking a shuttle to outside of airport property and hailing the rideshare cars from there.

Under the agreement approved Tuesday, Uber and Lyft must pay $4 for each pick-up and drop-off, a fee that will likely be passed on to consumers.

They must also help design a digital “geofence” to track when their cars enter and exit the airport. Only 40 rideshare cars will be allowed at one time and all must pick up and drop off customers at the departures section of LAX.

After Tuesday's vote, the contingent of rideshare drivers from Uber and Lyft held impromptu celebrations, passing out cupcakes among themselves.

"As a driver I'm able to make my customers happy and that's the best feeling," said Lyft driver Keegan Hamrin.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that cars would be limited to the airport's arrivals section. They will be limited to the departures area.

Follow KPCC's Meghan McCarty on Twitter for updates from Tuesday's meeting: