Traffic stop: What happens when airport police pulls over an UberX driver

This is from my story in Saturday’s newspaper …

Jessica Harris, 25, of Los Angeles said she was not aware there might be a problem when she ordered a Honda Accord recently through UberX.

“Literally, five minutes after we leave the airport we get pulled over by a police officer,” Harris said. “I was a little confused and a little nervous. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, did I do something wrong?’ He pulled me out of the car and he explained to me the problem. He said, ‘Don’t worry you’re not in trouble.’ He said, ‘You can call another car or I can call a cab for you.’ ”

She said her driver did not want to admit he was dispatched by UberX, but she felt she had no choice but to tell the truth to the officer. “He was like, ‘What service did you order this car from?’ ” she said. “I felt horrible. I felt so bad.”

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Read the letter: Sidecar advises drivers to avoid LAX

On Friday night I tweeted that Sidecar, like UberX, was also pulling its services from Los Angeles International Airport. But upon further review, I see that is not exactly true.

According to an email I received from the company, Sidecar has advised its drivers that they should probably avoid LAX due to increased enforcement of airport regulations by police.

But they’re leaving that decision up to drivers, who are essentially independent contractors. So you can still use the app to order a Sidecar. But whether they come is another matter. (The good news is that even if your driver gets cited for an illegal pickup, you’ll be free to go.)

Here is the communique from Sidecar to its drivers:

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Why can’t UberX, Lyft and Sidecar make LAX pickups?

Lyft is banned from picking up passengers at LAX. Photo credit: Associated Press.

Lyft is banned from picking up passengers at LAX. Photo credit: Associated Press.

A blog is a great place for short bursts of information. But sometimes, we still need the newspaper.

In Saturday’s newspaper, I explain the entire saga of why Lyft, Sidecar and UberX are banned from picking up passengers at LAX.  Below is the gist, but click on the link for the full story, including an account from a passenger who was in the car when her driver was pulled over.

“Amid a police crackdown on casual drivers illegally soliciting fares at Los Angeles International Airport, popular ride-sharing brand UberX moved Friday to halt pickups in the Central Terminal Area, though it will continue facilitating rides to the airport.

Since December, police have stepped up their enforcement of little-known regulations designed to protect livery and taxi drivers, frustrating ride-sharing drivers and leaving their customers bewildered. In the past two months, a law enforcement source said, Los Angeles World Airports police have cited about 200 drivers and made two arrests for illegal pickups on the upper and lower roadways.

The vast majority of Los Angeles Municipal Code citations, the source said, went to drivers for UberX, perhaps the most recognizable brand in an industry that includes competitors Lyft and Sidecar. Last week, Sidecar also told its drivers they might want to avoid LAX pickups, though its mobile phone application still allows them.

While the California Public Utilities Commission last year endorsed the right of the three firms and others like them to operate statewide, its decision left intact special arrangements at airports, which have the right to decide what cars may use them. Los Angeles International allows only properly licensed livery and taxi drivers to pick up passengers, and most drivers at the three major ride-sharing companies lack the proper credentials. Usually, drivers for UberX, Lyft and Sidecar are driving their own cars and are dispatched to fares by a mobile phone application.”

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LAX cracks down on UberX, Lyft and Sidecar; Source says there have been 200 citations since December


UPDATE: See my new post: UberX halts all LAX pickups amid increased police vigilance

Watch out, ride-sharing aficionados.

Los Angeles International Airport is cracking down on UberX, Lyft and Sidecar drivers making pickups in the Central Terminal Area. A law enforcement source told me that Los Angeles World Airports police have issued 200 citations and made two arrests of ride-sharing drivers since December. The majority of those citations, the source said, have been to UberX drivers.

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Lyft, UberX and Sidecar remain illegal at LAX. So why do they still operate there?

It is against the rules at LAX for ride-sharing drivers from UberX, Sidecar and Lyft to pick up passengers. So why are they doing so anyway, almost with impunity?

From what I learned in writing my story for today’s newspaper, it’s because LAX police are not enforcing airport rules. Technically, drivers can only pick up travelers for money if they have the proper permits. Most rideshare drivers do not have these permits. (That shouldn’t be a surprise, as most aren’t really professional drivers.)

I tried to press an airport police spokeswoman on whether officers were tacitly allowing UberX, Sidecar and Lyft to operate at LAX, but she declined to engage me. Instead, she simply said that LAX police were tasked with enforcing all laws and regulations. But I asked around, and I don’t get a feeling any drivers are being hit with citations.

Taxi drivers are apoplectic, and I think they may have a point. They must collect a $4 fee for every fare they pick up at the airport. The ride-sharing firms do not collect this fee, which makes their fares cheaper.

Eventually, I predict that ride-sharing drivers will get clearance from LAX to pick up passengers. But I suspect the process with be regulated in some way, and perhaps they’ll have to pay a fee to the airport for pickups — just like cab drivers.

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