Debate Forum: 12/13

Driving me crazy

Driving services brawl over prime airport real estate

By Sarah Sidlow

A fight at the airport. Because air travel isn’t already stressful.

Luckily, unless you’re a driver (Uber, Lyft, Taxi, or otherwise), you probably won’t end up duking it out in the parking lot. In fact, all of this fighting might actually lead to an easier, or at least more smartphone-friendly, option for finding a ride out of Dayton International Airport.

The airport has reached an agreement with Lyft and Uber Dayton to allow the ride-share drivers to wait for trip requests at the airport. That means when you roll out of the airport after a flight, you now have the option of ordering a ride-share in addition to ordering a traditional taxi. Both ride-share services officially started operating at the airport last week.

The agreement with Dayton International Airport goes like this: the airport makes $2 off of every Uber/Lyft ride that comes and goes to the airport. In exchange, Uber/Lyft drivers are allowed to come and go at the airport. Bada bing.

For many, this is good news. Lyft is the newest dog in the Dayton ride-share arena, and is pleased for the increased employment opportunities this relationship will create. Uber has been in the area since 2014, and is ready to extend its services to the airport, which seems like a logical fit. And for travelers, this also seems like good news—ride-share companies are huge industries in most major cities, and the convenience they provide has contributed to their growth and success. Plus, when has having more options been a bad thing?

Maybe if you’re one of the dozen taxi companies licensed to service the area. Back in June, a group of more than 30 taxi drivers at the Dayton International Airport petitioned the city to ban Uber from picking up passengers at the terminal. Or, at the very least, force them to pay new fees. Taxi drivers pay a per-customer airport fee to operate inside the space (because no one takes a taxi from the cell-phone lot).

The main concern is that ride-share drivers operating under a less stringent set of regulations are able to offer their services at a lower, more competitive price. In addition to a per-customer fee, taxi drivers pay the city an annual fee of $300 and are subject to inspections, a dress code, and other restrictions not placed on Uber drivers.

(The document, signed by drivers representing multiple companies, also asked for a general improvement of work conditions—like being allowed to access the terminal to use the public restrooms and retail businesses.)

The taxi coalition has been at odds with Uber since it was introduced to Dayton in 2014. Concerns have ranged from the ride-sharing service’s more lenient policies on background checks and insurance requirements to the overall concern that the lack of regulation makes it a less expensive option compared to the heavily regulated taxi industry.

However, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said Uber has paid an annual fee for the right to operate in the city and at the airport, in addition to the per-customer fee they’ll pay now. According to the Dayton Daily News, Dayton commissioners passed regulations requiring Uber and other transportation network companies to pay an annual operating privilege fee of $8,500 in 2014. Similar fees are required of ride-sharing companies at the Columbus and Cincinnati airports, and the city of Cleveland is considering imposing one, as well.

Now, Whaley says the city is in the process of updating its policies to comply with a new state law that allows airports to regulate Uber and similar companies. They also imposed some requirements on Uber drivers, including that they must be at least 19 years old and carry the state-minimum amount of insurance coverage.

Policies aside, the larger issue in this debate is about competition. Taxi drivers don’t want additional purveyors mucking up the system. Ride-share companies are saying, “You can’t monopolize the airport.” And, in classic Dayton fashion, it all might change soon enough.

That’s because the city of Dayton is seeking a single provider for taxi service at the airport.

Unsurprisingly, taxi companies are unhappy with this plan. Airport officials have said the single provider would make ground transportation more reliable, convenient, and consistent for travelers. Proposals from taxi companies are due by Dec. 14.

 

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Ubermensch

By Ben Tomkins

In the wake of the election, I have to dig extremely deep into my reserves of human tolerance to summon the energy and explain why ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft will be dominating Dayton International Airport in the future. I don’t mean because I don’t think it’s an important or interesting question. It’s taxing because I’m supposed to deliver 700 words on the issue when this election cycle has already made it abundantly clear that if people want something, it will happen no matter what the cost; and if it goes badly, we will lie to ourselves about how it wasn’t really our fault.

The one gigantic difference is that Uber and Lyft are objectively good companies. I use Uber on select occasions, and as far as I’m concerned, it has worked out a fantastic business model for the driver and passenger.

Hey, do you always get rides to the airport from your friends so you don’t have to pay 300 bucks to park your car? Are you tired of hearing them bitch about how early your flight is, and how much you owe them for this feeble act of reciprocity, despite talking them off a ledge during their divorce amid echoes in the back of your mind, that if they jumped you wouldn’t be on the hook to help them move into an apartment on the other side of town? Wouldn’t it be great if it were socially acceptable to reduce that friendship to slipping them five bucks and politely telling them to shut the f–k up and drive?

WAIT!!! NOW THERE’S UBER!!! At Uber, our drivers are handpicked to ensure they have nicer, cleaner cars than your crappy friends. They show up on time, and they always shower before they get to your front door, so you aren’t confronted with a passive-aggressive, greasy visage, pouting about an early morning when they work at noon. You see, our drivers are normal people. They’re already at work! But don’t you live a long way away from the airport? How about, “shut the f–k up and drive? Oh, you had to drop off the kids early at daycare to make this work, so we’re going to spend the entire time crowing over how great a friend you are? Here’s a $20 for the abortion you should’ve/didn’t/can’t get in Ohio anymore, and check the text I sent you: STFU@douchebagfriend#drive. What’s that? You paid $280 for tickets to see Hamilton last night and you’re completely exhausted? Well, I could have saved you some money because I’ve got a piece of paper with his face on it right here. Now. Shut. The f—. Up… and drive.”

Look, I can go on with this for days, but I think you get the idea. Nobody cares if the person behind the wheel is a certified airport dropper-offer, so long as he or she consistently get the job done with minimum fuss. Perhaps your driver got arrested for idling the car while getting your bags onto the curb, but if he or she didn’t hold anyone up at the terminal, there’s nothing to talk about. You got what you wanted at a good price, and the people around you, not involved in the transaction, weren’t inconvenienced enough to complain.

Also, I understand that this is the airport. I acknowledge when I am saying this that big problems could occur with unlicensed taxi drivers. Fine. Then realize that we’re a few highly-public-bad-airport-security experiences away from Americans being willing to throw out the TSA and roll the dice on terrorism. You think I’m kidding? Be honest now: the last time you were potentially late for a flight because of a long line, were you thinking more about your bad planning, or how unlikely it was that terrorists would blow up a flight to Des Moines?

Right.

Finally, if you’ve never used a ride-share before, your thumb will hammer the nail in the coffin over this stuff when you get the app. You press a button, and when the car shows up, you don’t even have to tell them where you’re going. They drive you from point A to B, and when you get there, you don’t have to tip or pay. You just get out, and if either one of you was a prick, you don’t even have to summon the energy to tell them to shut the f–k up. The app gives you a chance to kick the door shut by leaving negative feedback, and the transaction is satisfyingly complete. It’s civil, it’s organized, and it’s a clear example of how the machinations of capitalism can, when properly applied, precisely adjudicate human social dynamics without anyone having to utter a single word.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit HillofAthens.com. Reach him at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Picking favorites

By Don Hurst

In most cases, companies whining to the government about competitors taking away their business is ridiculous. Instead of complaining that customers don’t want to ride in your busted up cabs, get to work improving your operations. This is capitalism. Survival of the strong. Extinction of the weak.

That’s how the free market economy works. Except what happens at the Dayton International Airport is not exactly a free market. The city imposes many restrictions and fees for taxi companies that ride-share operators have mostly avoided until recently. Uber and Lyft pay more than they did a year ago to conduct business at the airport, but regulations aren’t equal yet. Uber and Lyft drivers should not be allowed to pick up passengers at the airport until the city figures out how to equally apply regulations. Maybe ride-shares are superior to taxi cabs, but then again, maybe their prices would rise if held subject to the same fees and regulations as cab companies.

The city did not set out to hamstring taxi drivers’ ability to compete. Most of the regulations make sense and increase the safety of travelers. All taxi drivers apply for a criminal background check with the city. We don’t want serial killers driving cabs. The vehicles themselves have to pass inspections. We don’t want serial killers driving death traps.

Some of the regulations are more about aesthetics. Cab drivers have to follow a dress code of collared shirts and neatly groomed facial hair. The taxis have to follow a dress code, as well. The cars must have consistent paint jobs. They can’t have rust. They can’t have any visible damage. The cars can’t be dirty. They also can’t be over 8-years-old.

All of this costs money. Three hundred dollars to the city every year for the privilege of driving a cab at the airport and using the staging area. A fee of $2.15 for every passenger. Daily car washes so they can survive the surprise inspections. All these regulations and fees add up. The city government nickel-and-dimes cabbies until they can’t compete with other companies.

Then, the city allows ride-share drivers to operate without applying the same rigorous standards. Of course Uber and Lyft can provide cheaper fares. The city did not force those drivers to buy new cars if their cars were over 8-years-old. The city did not force Uber and Lyft to make costly cosmetic repairs to vehicles that had nothing to do with safety.

These double standards would not work in other heavily regulated markets, say, the restaurant industry. In the last few years, standard brick and mortar diners have faced their own Uber-like insurgency with food trucks. Mobile restaurants possess a competitive advantage due to their mobility and less significant overhead.

Traditional restaurant owners must meet the standards of several municipal codes. Again, most of these protect the safety of customers. It does cost business owners money to maintain cleanliness and to ensure rancid meat does not create a surge at hospital emergency rooms.

What if the city did not require those same standards for food trucks? Your cooks don’t wear hairnets? That’s fine, we like the extra flavor. Don’t have a refrigerator? That’s all right—that’s a first world problem. Raw meat and vegetables in the same bowl? Whatever, you just keep being you.

Restaurants and food trucks provide basically the same product. If the law scrutinized one while allowing the other to do as it wants, then how can they compete fairly? They can’t. If regulations make sense for one, they make sense for the other, as well.

Granted, Uber and Lyft try not hire felons and do have company enforced standards on dress and appearance of vehicles. However, who enforces that? The city doesn’t force them to take time out of their workday and lose money from passenger fares for surprise inspections.

The city asks for a lot from taxi drivers that they don’t ask from ride-share drivers. Those changes cost real money to implement. The understood agreement was if drivers paid for all these changes then they would be allowed to keep picking up fares at the airport. Now, the city has moved the goal posts again.

Cab drivers are still paying for the expensive upgrades the city forced them to make. Now, the city is giving them notice that the airport will move to a single taxi provider. Even after all the expense, they might not be allowed to operate at the airport anymore.

Dayton should limit ride-share and allow the taxi companies to recoup the losses from the improvements the city mandated. Let them make money while they can until the city shuts out all competition with its proposed single provider system.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays.
Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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