But if you’re trying to get a ride from Fresno Yosemite International Airport, as Fresno resident Harry Schoettler did recently on a return trip from San Diego, you’re going to be out of luck. The Fresno airport is one of a number of airports in California and nationwide where Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies cannot legally pick up or drop off passengers. In a letter to The Bee, Schoettler expressed his frustration. “In order to use Uber, we had to drag our suitcases out to the street in front of the airport – a quarter-mile walk,” he wrote. “The driver informed us that they are subject to a $1,000 fine if they violate this policy.”
That policy, it turns out, is a state regulation from the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates ride sharing. Under the state’s rules, ride-sharing companies are barred from operating at airports in the state unless they have permits from the local airport.
The city has no policy that prohibits Uber, Lyft, Sidecar or any other transportation network company from operating at the airport. There’s nothing from our end that says they can’t.
Kevin Meikle, city of Fresno airport director
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Over the past 14 months, many large California airports, including San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and San Diego, have set up their permit processes. Fresno hasn’t done so yet, but a policy has been in the works for a few months, and airports director Kevin Meikle said he expects to take it to the Fresno City Council for approval in January or February. “We want it to happen,” Meikle said. “We see it as an enhancement for airport service.”
“The city has no policy that prohibits Uber, Lyft, Sidecar or any other transportation network company from operating at the airport,” Meikle added. “There’s nothing from our end that says they can’t. But the state law prohibits them from operating at airports in California” without permits.
Uber said it’s looking forward to having its drivers be able to operate legally at the airport. “We are actively working with airport officials to extend Uber’s … rides to travelers coming to” the Fresno airport, said Jay Gierak, Uber’s general manager for the Central Valley and Sacramento.
As ride sharing has taken off, the taxicab industry – which is regulated at the local level – has complained that companies like Uber and Lyft have an unfair regulatory advantage. “Our goal is to create a level playing field, with no advantage for one industry or the other,” Meikle said. “There’s enough happening at other airports that we can look at and make sure we’re consistent with the industry standards and treat everybody fairly.”
It is likely that Fresno’s permit process will include some form of trip fee, a surcharge that the ride-sharing companies would pay for each pickup or dropoff at the airport, or a concession arrangement with the city. Using “geofencing,” an invisible GPS line around the perimeter of the airport, Uber and other companies now can block their smartphone apps from hailing rides from airports like Fresno where they lack the proper permit. Once a permit process is in place, that same GPS technology can detect when the services’ drivers come to the airport to pick up or drop off passengers. A monthly report of those trips would enable the city to bill the company for the trip fees, which Meikle said are typically $3 to $4 per trip.
Meikle said representatives from Los Angeles International Airport and other large airports report that they’re experiencing growing traffic congestion from drivers with Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies. “These drivers are just circling the airport, hoping to be in the right place at the right time when a passenger clicks their smartphone for a ride,” he said. “It’s having a real impact on those airports.”