Taxi protest chokes SFO traffic

Angry over the recent decision to allow transportation network companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to operate at San Francisco International Airport, a taxi driver‘s union staged a protest there Monday night.

The protest clogged up airport traffic as taxis circled the terminals rather than reporting to the assigned taxi parking lot where they would be dispatched to pick up passengers, SFO spokesman Doug Yakel said.

He said taxi drivers were permitted to hold a picket at the airport and about 20 people did do that, but the vehicular action was not sanctioned by the airport.

Between 9 and 10 p.m., the circling drivers made it a hassle for travelers to get in and out of SFO and people hoping to catch cabs were lining up on the curbs, at times with as many as 15 or 20 travelers waiting for a ride, Yakel said.

Yakel said:

“From a customer standpoint this is probably going to cause some customers to look for other forms of transportation.”

Taxi drivers claim that companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, referred to as TNCs in California Public Utilities Commission regulations established last year, are not required to follow the same strict regulations as taxis despite providing the same service and should not be allowed to conduct business at the airport.

The CPUC paved the way for TNCs to begin airport operations last year when it created regulations requiring them to get permits at airports. SFO became the first California airport to allow the companies to work there last month when it granted permits to Sidecar, then Uber, Lyft and Wingz.

One point of contention in the new permits is that taxi drivers have to pay a fee of as much as $4 for each trip to the airport while the TNCs have a flat $3.85 fee for each pickup, San Francisco Cab Drivers Association board member Ashwani Aeri said today.

But Yakel said the $4 fee is only for longer trips and that shorter trips to nearby areas like Millbrae only carry a $2 fee, while the $3.85 fee is the same as for limousine services.

“We see the TNCs as more similar in business concept to a limo company” because they work with prearranged stops and not curbside pickups, Yakel said. He could not elaborate on how the length of a trip is determined or when the taxis pay the fees.

More broadly, taxi drivers are protesting the stricter regulations for taxis on the local and state level and formed the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association in August in response to the steep decline in cab rides after TNCs started operating.

Among the regulations that the taxi drivers say are stricter for cabs are emissions standards, handicapped accessibility requirements, background checks and insurance.

Aeri said:

“We’re trying to send a message that the TNCs should follow the same rules as taxi cabs.”