LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Los Angeles City Council approved a policy Tuesday to allow ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft to operate at LAX, making it the largest city to approve such a measure.
After a morning of debate, the city council voted to approve a non-exclusive license agreement for Uber and Lyft drivers to serve one of the world’s busiest airports.
If the city finalizes contracts with the companies, Los Angeles will become the largest U.S. city to lift a ban on drivers picking up passengers from the airport.
Part of the so-called sharing economy, Uber and Lyft allow smartphone users to submit a trip request to drivers and pay with a credit card on the services’ apps. Drivers also use the apps to process trip requests and payments.
The city council voted 9-6 to approve the new policy and also voted in favor of amendments mandating background checks for drivers.
During the debate, the city council was preoccupied with the question of balancing consumer demand for the services with concerns over the negative impact on the taxi industry, passenger safety and compliance with the Americans with Disability Act.
State prosecutors have questioned the safety of the startups, which use crowd-sourced drivers who do not need a commercial license to work.
Uber’s background checks have come under fire amid allegations that 25 drivers in the state had criminal records for charges including murder, assault and driving under the influence.
Several class action lawsuits are pending against Uber and Lyft, and some cities in the United States and Europe have barred them as unfair competitors.
Lyft driver Lauren Szendrei, 28, said outside council chambers in city hall that she was “really excited” by the city’s decision to move forward.
“I definitely think it’s a great passenger choice to choose who can pick them up from the airport, so I’m really excited about this decision. It’s going to be beneficial for the airport, the passengers, the drivers – really, everybody,” she said.
Szendrei said she understood the concerns over public safety.
“I think passenger safety is of utmost importance, so I definitely understand what their concerns are,” Szendrei said. “However, I do feel that the passengers feel safe – that it is their choice. And a lot of us are really safe drivers.”
Arsen Derderin, 40, a driver with LA Checker said he was not opposed to Uber and Lyft coming to and from the airport, as long as the city evened the playing field so traditional cab drivers could compete.
“If they charged a dollar a mile, I don’t care if I’m a cab driver, I’ll go take Transportation Network Companies too because of the rate. Let them equally charge the same rate as we do,” Derderin said. “Why would I take city transportation – bus, walk, et cetera – if I can get a ride for $1 a mile?”
As part of the package to lift the bar on ride-hailing services at LAX, the council voted in favor of several safeguards – including a requirement that LAX owner Los Angeles World Airports reports on driver citations for ride-hailing services and traditional cab drivers.
LA will ask the California Public Utilities Commission to create uniform background checks for ride-hailing services, limos, buses and other transportation services that could include fingerprinting.
The city will also ask the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to create a draft plan to simplify taxi regulations and make sure that traditional cab drivers are subject to the same background checks as ride-hailing drivers.
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