Last week, InstantCab announced to the world that it had received a partial cease-and-desist letter from the San Francisco International Airport, asking it to stop picking up and dropping off passengers there. Well, apparently it wasn’t alone, as other new transportation startups had also received the same notice last month.
SideCar, for instance, confirmed that it received a cease-and-desist letter in early March. Zimride’s Lyft hasn’t responded to our inquiries, but we’ve heard that it too was one of the companies hit with a C&D notice. InstantCab, which operates a hybrid service with both community and taxi drivers, was actually the last of the companies to be served with a notice by SFO. And that notice applied to its community drivers only, not the taxi e-hail side of its business.
The letters served to remind companies like Lyft and SideCar that the site is operated by the City and County of San Francisco and the Airport Commission, and also as a reminder that they didn’t have permits to operate on SFO premises. Without a permit, the notices say that continued operation of community driver services at SFO will be considered “an unlawful trespass.” In particular, the notice says those services are violating a couple of airport rules and regulations, including this one:
Rule 3.3(E): No person shall enter or remain on Airport property and buy, sell, peddle or offer for sale or purchase any goods, merchandise, property or services of any kind whatsoever, on or from Airport property, without the express written consent of the Director or the Director’s duly authorized representative.
Like every other airport in the world, SFO allows regulated taxi services to pick up and drop off passengers on the premises. Black car and limo services have been driving passengers to and from SFO for decades. And over the past few years, Uber has even provided a transportation alternative to those flying in and out of the airport — although Uber drivers are mostly indistinguishable from limo services, in part because the company partners with them for its UberBLACK and UberSUV service.
The key distinguishing feature of the services hit by cease-and-desist letters by SFO seems to be that they employ community drivers who are not licensed by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency or the California Public Utilities Commission.
In that respect, SFO isn’t the first to try to outlaw these services. Lyft and SideCar (along with Uber and Tickengo) had all received C&D notices from the CPUC last year before the agency backtracked and began examining the possibility of creating a new regulatory framework for ride-sharing services. And SideCar has received some pushback from local regulators in markets, such as Philadelphia and Austin, cities it recently expanded into.
The wild card here is Uber, which to our knowledge hasn’t yet received notice from SFO. While it’s quietly served the airport’s passengers since launching in San Francisco years ago, it recently joined the ride-sharing brigade by contracting community drivers for its lower-priced UBERx service.