Philadelphia Airport next arena for taxi fight against UberX, Lyft

Philadelphia taxi and limo drivers promised to take “further action” beginning Tuesday unless Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) CEO Rochelle Cameron takes steps to stop ride-hailing companies UberX and Lyft from operating at the airport.

News that Uber started allowing UberX drivers to pick up passengers from the airport was first reported by the Inquirer on Saturday. Through the app, Uber had previously blocked UberX drivers from PHL pickups. Taxis and limos, including limos hailed through UberBlack or UberSUV, pay hourly fees to the airport for the right to pick up passengers there. UberX and Lyft have ignored those fees.

According to a press release jointly issued by the Philadelphia Limousine Association (PLA) and the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, Lyft started illegal airport pickups last June, whereas UberX began PHL operations last Wednesday. UberX has a larger presence in Philadelphia than its competitor Lyft, said Philadelphia Limousine Association spokesman Ali Razak, making their decision to muscle into airport pickups much more financially damaging to limo and taxi drivers. Razak described limo drivers as “desperate,” saying: “We can’t take it anymore.”

Razak said the taxi and limo drivers would give PHL officials until Tuesday to provide a satisfactory answer to their request, promising “a series of actions,” if the official response was tepid.

In an email, city spokesperson Ajeenah Amir said: “PHL and other city officials are in ongoing discussions with the parties involved. PHL has been informing passengers that state law prohibits ride sharing, and have posted signs on the monitors throughout the airport.  Philadelphia Police Department are [sic] also enforcing this state regulation.”

Upon hearing this statement, Razak did not sound impressed. “There is nothing to discuss.”

“Should they discuss and negotiate with other criminals too?” Said Razak. “[City officials] are saying ridesharing is not allowed. We know they are not allowed. Why are [UberX and Lyft] there? Are they more powerful than the law?”

Saying that the city still had all of Tuesday to provide a response more acceptable to the drivers, Razak said that “one of the main actions could be a protest at the airport, a huge protest with taxis and limousines, everyone together.”

This isn’t the first time vague threats have been issued in Philadelphia’s ongoing ride-hailing saga. Back in March, a coalition including the PLA and the Taxi Workers issued ominous threats to take “extraordinary measures” in March unless Mayor Jim Kenney intervened in their dispute with the ride-hailing companies. Kenney ignored that ultimatum, which resulted in some muted protests near city hall. A few weeks later, the PLA—but not the Taxi Workers—promised to strike during the Democratic National Convention in late July.

UberBlack and UberSUV links passengers with limousines that are fully licensed and certified with the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA), which regulates taxis and limos in Philadelphia. UberX and Lyft connect passengers with drivers using their own cars. Access to arrival pickup zones is regulated by Philadelphia International Airport, which is overseen by the city’s Commerce Department.

Razak said that Uber was punishing UberBlack drivers by allowing UberX to operate at the airport. In recent months, UberBlack drivers have fought against their employer over the expansion of UberX in Philadelphia, which the PPA and the Court of Common Pleas have said operates illegally in the city. The PLA opposes a bill currently stymied in Harrisburg to legalize ride-hailing companies throughout Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia. Razak also alleged that Uber was manipulating the app to artificially increase the estimated arrival times for UberBlack pickups, compared to UberX. As of Monday afternoon, pickup times at the Airport via the Uber app showed two minute wait estimates for UberBlack and three minute estimates for UberX.

When asked to respond to Razak’s added allegations, a spokesperson for Uber pointed to the wait estimates and also noted that UberBlack drivers get to use the Airport’s specifically designated limo pick up area near baggage claim, whereas UberX drivers need to go somewhat further to the private vehicles pickup area.

When asked whether Lyft had operated at the airport without paying the pickup fees, a spokesperson for Lyft responded by email: “We look forward to working with Philadelphia International Airport staff and are optimistic PHL will join the more than 40 airports across the country who have embraced the benefits ridesharing brings to their passengers.”

 

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