Lyft balks at plan for San Jose airport pick-ups

Transportation network companies will be able to pick up passengers at Mineta San Jose International Airport under a pilot program approved by the San Jose City Council Tuesday evening.

In a 7-3 vote, the City Council approved a year-long pilot plan set to start Sept. 1 when TNCs such as Uber and Lyft can drive customers from the airport as long as they comply with the program’s requirements.

The TNCs must have their drivers undergo criminal background checks, submit fingerprints and obtain a business license and permits.

Other requirements include vehicle inspections, payment of trip fees and a $1 million insurance policy, a much larger amount compared to the required $300,000 for taxi companies.

Trips provided by the TNCs must be tracked through the airport’s trip data collection system and submit to random audits by airport staff.

Many Uber and Lyft drivers wearing T-shirts with the logo of their respective companies at Tuesday’s City Council meeting asked the council to defer its vote on the program to August and come back with reasonable regulations.

Some officials from the TNCs oppose the terms of the program including Timothy Burr Jr., government relations manager at Lyft, who told the City Council that the program at the airport “stands in stark contrast” to agreements reached with other cities.

Carl Guardino, CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, also advised the council to defer their decision on the pilot program as many of the requirements such as business licenses, city vehicle inspections and fingerprinting for drivers is not mandated at other airports including San Francisco International Airport.

Liccardo said:

“It seems to me a fingerprint check is a pretty basic check that most of us have had to comply with. … What we’re requiring appears to me to be minimal.”

City Councilman Chappie Jones, who voted against the program with council members Ash Kalra and Don Rocha, said other issues have to be evaluated in order to create a “level-playing field” for TNCs and taxi companies.

Once the TNCs receive permits and operate at the airport, the city is estimated to receive $630,000 in annual revenue, airport aviation director Kim Becker said.

Larry Silva, general manager for San Jose-based Yellow Checker Cab Company, said the City Council’s decision to pass the pilot program was:

“… very advanced because I think that at some point everyone knows the drivers should be fingerprinted. Too many people have slipped under the cracks.”

Silva said he sees taxi regulations decreasing to a certain extent and stricter rules for TNCs, but the requirements for both services will be in line with each other “in the very near future.”

In a statement Lyft officials said:

“Airport officials worked for nine months with the ridesharing community to craft an agreement that complies with all state laws and is good for drivers, passengers and the City of San Jose. … (Tuesday’s) vote overturned those negotiations in less than 48 hours and with no public debate.”

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said the proposal the city council voted on Tuesday contained a new set of requirements that differed from the ones the city and TNCs had previously discussed.

The council voted on the proposal released on Friday containing modifications without allowing enough time for a response from stakeholders, Wilson said.

Lyft will not be applying for the pilot program as it currently stands, Wilson said.

The company already puts its drivers go through “a very thorough and rigorous safety screening process” that does not require them to visit a city office, Wilson said.

State Assembly Bill 24, authored by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks, would create requirements such as fingerprinting for drivers of TNCs and other similar services. The bill has been held in the state Assembly appropriations committee.

Orson Aguilar of Berkeley-based nonprofit Greenlining Institute said in a March 18 letter to Nazarian opposing the bill:

“The use of fingerprints as the basis for accurate checks does not, in fact, assure accuracy as reporting is irregular across different counties and states.”