One Year Later, SFO Still Refuses To Meet With Uber, Lyft And Sidecar To Discuss Dispute

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar sent a letter to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee last week asking him to intervene in the ongoing dispute over the right to pick up passengers at the San Francisco International Airport. We’ve reached out a couple of times to the mayor’s office for comment on this. No word back yet (update, see below), but one thing is clear — one year later, there’s zero progress toward resolving this issue.

All three ride-sharing companies confirmed to TechCrunch that they could not get a meeting with SFO to amend its TNC (Transportation Network Companies) permit stipulations. SFO issued cease-and-desist notices last April to those startups for picking up and dropping off passengers at the airport. The notice informed them that any drivers operating on SFO property would be considered trespassing without the proper permit.

SFO says it’s only asking Uber, Lyft and Sidecar drivers to follow requirements that are similar to those for cab companies. All three of those startups, however, believe SFO requirements go beyond what their drivers should legally have to provide.

Some of the requirements in question ask for real-time tracking and historical data for all Bay Area rideshare drivers when on airport property, regardless of whether the vehicle is engaged in commercial activity by carrying a rider or is at the airport for personal reasons. The problem with that request, according to Sidecar Head of Communications Margaret Ryan, is that it violates both customer and driver privacy.

It also presents a major technological problem for TNC drivers. For example, Uber has no way of knowing if its UberX drivers are at the airport to pick up passengers or for personal reasons. However, under SFO stipulations, Uber can still be punished.

The TNC permit also asks each driver to carry a $1 million dollar insurance policy on them at all times, whether or not the vehicle has a passenger in it. This is similar to the requirement for regular taxi drivers depending on the type of permit. However, taxis only use their vehicles for commercial use, whereas rideshare drivers will most likely be using their vehicles for personal use much of the time.

Both Lyft and Uber have recently closed the so-called “insurance gap” to extend coverage for drivers in-between rides. Sidecar, meanwhile, said it would provide the same coverage soon.

Further, the SFO permit will only allow drop-offs for TNC drivers, not drop-off and pick-up, which is allowed for every other taxi driver there.

SFO maintains that it has been working collaboratively with the TNCs, that the permit application came about through numerous meetings with the companies both individually and in groups, and that these stipulations are for public safety. They also say they found several TNC drivers in egregious violation of their stipulations and the law, including no proof of insurance, drivers operating without proper registration, and even two drivers operating without a basic drivers license.

However, each of the companies we spoke with said they were unable to get a meeting with representatives from the airport. Hence, last week’s letter to the mayor from the CEOs of Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar imploring Mayor Lee to intervene and help them get a meeting with SFO to address these issues.

As for the airport’s claim that the requirements are merely to ensure public safety, Uber spokesperson Eva Behrend writes:

These permit requirements don’t have a nexus to providing public safety and seem more like airport administrators trying to help a failing taxi industry.  Local government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers, the public does it well and they’re overwhelmingly choosing ridesharing over the antiquated taxi industry.  SFO refuses to have a meeting to discuss or even explain their intent with these requirements – a refusal that seems more like it’s intended to protect the taxi industry than help the residents and visitors of San Francisco

Update: Mayor Ed Lee’s spokesperson Christine Falvey got back to us shortly after we filed this story. TL:DR while the Mayor supports ridesharing in San Francisco, he’s leaving it up to authorities at SFO to deal with the rules they’ve set on their turf.

Full response from Mayor’s office here:

Mayor Lee has always been a strong supporter of the sharing economy because of the benefit it brings to everyday San Francisco residents. Ridesharing is an innovative transportation alternative for many City residents and SFO customers.  The mayor is supportive of SFO’s proactive efforts to permit and regulate rideshare companies to provide access and ensure customer service and public safety. Mayor Lee defers transportation policy decisions about airport transportation issues to his highly respected Airport Director John Martin and the Airport Commission.

You can read the letter sent out by all three rideshare companies below:

Letter to Mayor Ed Lee Re SFO (1) by TechCrunch