Uber and Lyft Drivers Told to Ignore Regulations: Companies Pay Airport Citations for Drivers

Drivers for Uber and Lyft say their companies are telling them to ignore regulations. If they get caught, the drivers say the companies will pay the citation, which can cost several hundred dollars.

It’s considered trespassing to do business at airports without valid permits, but the Investigative Unit went undercover and discovered drivers dropping off and picking up passengers. “I can't be here for too long,” said one driver at San Jose International Airport. “I would have to move because the police are pretty hard-ass about Uber picking up at the airport.”

Currently, Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar are in negotiations with various airports across the state to obtain permits. But so far, not one California airport has issued a permit to a ride-hailing app company. Permitted drivers, such as taxi and limo drivers, must wait in a holding area and pay airport fees when they enter the airport. Airport fees help pay for airport operations.

“As of now, according to our rules, they shouldn’t be operating at the airport,“ California Public Utilities Commission Director of Policy and Planning Marzia Zafar said.

The Public Utilities Commission has not enforced the regulations around airport rules for ride-sharing app companies. Zafar explains, “We are not saying that they are breaking policy. What we are focused on is safety, and our role in this space is to promote safety. And our role is to let the airport create their own rules.”

But airport officials say ride service drivers are breaking their rules. “Neither pickups nor drop-offs are currently permitted for UberX," San Francisco International Airport Public Information Officer Doug Yakel explained.

Airports such as San Francisco International, San Jose International and Oakland International have used valuable resources to make sure the ride service companies follow the rules. The Investigative Unit has found that over the last four months, law enforcement at each airport has issued hundreds of citations to ride service drivers that have been found doing business at the airport, which can be a misdemeanor trespassing charge. At San Francisco International Airport, police found even more issues, including two ride service drivers with no valid driver’s license, nine with no car insurance, one ride service driver with expired registration, and one with expired car registration.

Documents suggest that Uber and Lyft may be encouraging drivers to break the rules. The Investigative Unit analyzed hundreds of citations law enforcement at SFO has written to ride service drivers. In one citation, an officer notes that a driver told him “Lyft would take care of any tickets issued by the police.” The driver also claimed Lyft warned him to keep the trademark pink mustache "off our cars if we go to the airport."

In another citation, an officer writes that an UberX driver told him, “'I emailed Uber. They said that dropping off is okay.'”

Despite state regulations, Uber also told the Investigative Unit that they believe it’s okay to do business at the airport without proper permitting. In an email to the Investigative Unit, Eva Behrend of Uber Technologies wrote, “Currently travelers can request any driver partner that is licensed to pick-up passengers from the airport. This includes driver partners who are on both UberX and UberBLACK platforms. We encourage travelers to open the app and request a ride using the Uber platform to be connected to a safe, convenient and seamless ride.”

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon says this is just another example of ride service companies ignoring regulations. “We have a lot of information that leads us to believe that bad business practices are taking place,” Gascon said in a recent interview. Gascon has sent letters to Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, in which he accused them of breaking state law and he threatened legal action if they don’t make changes.

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