EXCLUSIVE: Ridesharing companies accused of skirting airport rules

EXCLUSIVE: Ridesharing companies accused of skirting airport rules
Published: Apr. 26, 2016 at 2:23 AM HST|Updated: Apr. 26, 2016 at 9:49 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A turf battle over the lucrative airport taxi business is breaking out and some claim it's not a fair fight. Taxi operators say that ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are picking up passengers illegally at Honolulu International Airport. Those same cab companies pay the state hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to operate there while the ridesharing companies do not.

"By UberX and Lyft coming in and obviously not paying anything, they're basically free loading," said David Jung, owner of EcoCab Hawaii.

David Deluze, owner of Robert's Taxi, said the problem is widespread.

"I was amazed at the scope of how much they actually pick up. I would say they pick up a minimum of 200 loads a day there," he said.

Not having the proper permit to pick up airport passengers is a petty misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and a year in jail.

We hailed one UberX driver by using the company's smart phone app. The Uber app is supposed to block all calls from within the airport but we were able to reach him by moving the app's location pin to outside the airport, implying that we were mauka of Nimitz Highway.  We then called the driver's cell phone and told him to meet us at the airport.

"You pinged me outside of the airport and so I was kind of duped into coming here," the driver told me after I identified myself as a news reporter. "I can't drop my call because that would affect my cancellation rate. I was kind of forced to come here."

The driver said he rarely picks up rides at the airport. But cab companies said the practice is all too common.

Deluze and a partner videotaped several UberX and Lyft drivers making illegal pick ups. He showed us a video of one Uber driver in a white truck who picked up a passenger several feet from the curbside, creating potential safety hazards for the passenger.

"They're blocking the road, stopping where ever they want," Deluze said. Deluze and other cab drivers have complained to the state but he said it's a difficult problem to police since Uber and Lyft drivers all work in unmarked cars.

He's hoping that a bill now moving through the City Council will help address the problem. That bill, which will be heard by the Council's Budget Committee Wednesday, will place Uber and Lyft under the same regulations cab companies operate under.

Uber did not address the potential violations but it said passengers are welcome to book rides on its Uber Select and Uber Taxi services, which are allowed to pick up passengers at the airport. Lyft did not respond.

"Across the country, airports are embracing UberX for its affordability and reliability, and we look forward to Honolulu International Airport doing the same," said Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson.

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