Wanna Share a Ride at the Airport? Be Careful Before You’re Arrested

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Over the past few weeks, airport authorities in San Francisco have been making citizen’s arrests of drivers who’ve arranged to pick up or drop off travelers via ride-sharing smartphone apps such as Lyft and SideCar.

Talk about mixed messages. A couple of weeks ago, the Mayor of San Francisco officially declared it Lyft Day in the city on the occasion of the ride-sharing company’s one-year birthday, praising the operation in a proclamation laden with language like:

Lyft and ridesharing support the City of San Francisco’s commitment to innovation and sustainability and promote transportation alternatives to individual private car ownership

This week, another ride-sharing company, SideCar, applauded the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for proposing a decision that would regulate ride-sharing as a new transportation category—and therefore officially endorse this category as legal throughout the state. (The legality of several “sharing economy” businesses have been called into question recently in several cities around the U.S.) “We applaud the CPUC for recognizing that alternative transportation services like Sidecar benefit Californians,” SideCar CEO Sunil Paul wrote in a blog post.

Yet at the same time officials in California and San Francisco seem to be getting on board with ride-sharing services, word has spread that ride-share drivers have been getting arrested for picking up or dropping off passengers at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). A company called FlightCar was sued in June for offering car-sharing services at SFO without complying with regulations and fees structures. And now the airport is apparently taking action against individual drivers who are offering ride-share services via SideCar, Lyft, InstantCab, and UberX.

[UPDATE (8/1): An Uber spokesperson reached out to TIME and stated that the reports involving Uber drivers at SFO are wrong. “All Uber partners and their drivers utilizing the Uber platform are properly licensed and regulated per the California PUC. That includes uberX drivers,” the statement from Uber reads. “We do not know of a single instance of SFO authorities arresting any driver connected to the Uber platform performing any trip coordinated through Uber technology. We believe that the statements by the airport spokesperson [indicating that Uber drivers were arrested] are untrue.”]

(MORE: The Other Complication for Airbnb and the Sharing Economy: Taxes)

The San Francisco Chronicle, a local CBS TV station, and other outlets reported that airport officials have made citizen’s arrests of at least 11 drivers suspected of unlawful trespassing, starting on July 10. It’s not clear what penalties drivers might face.

Drivers can’t say that they weren’t warned this could happen. Valleywag published a message sent out a while back by Sidecar to its San Francisco drivers, alerting them that “SFO recently issued us, Lyft, Uber and other ridesharing companies a Cease and Desist, claiming that ridesharing was not authorized to operate on SFO property.” While an agreement with the airport was being worked out, SideCar wrote, “We are advising that you avoid trips to SFO.” Officials at SFO also said that they have been giving ride-share drivers verbal warnings for months.

Supporters of ride-sharing maintain that authorities should not restrict the practice, which is often likened to giving a ride to a friend rather than operating an official business. They say that officials are cracking down on ride-share drivers due to pressure from taxi and limousine companies, whose businesses are increasingly feeling threatened by the rise of ride sharing.

Interesting, this week also marks the launch of the car-sharing service RelayRides at SFO. The company is working with an off-airport parking lot, and if and when it becomes popular it too could disrupt airport-based businesses, including taxis and on-site parking operations.

(MORE: RelayRides Plans to Disrupt Airport Parking and Rental Cars in a Big Way)

We’ll stay tuned to how the sharing sagas at SFO—which could set precedents for airports and cities around the nation—play out.


As CEO of a CC risk mitigation & rewards start-up, behind the scenes, we’ve been on the front-lines, and in the fox-holes when regulators raise questions about risk & safety.  No solution was going to be perfect. With that in mind, we have a solid and positive result, with the CPUC essentially coming down in favor of innovation and peer to peer networks over protecting the status quo.

Can we please step back for a minute? Think about those corny values that still mean something in this world? When Peer to Peer transportation models, or any P2P model for that matter,  are considered “disruptive” or “risky”, this only indicates how far we have drifted from those core values that make up a community- like sharing, bartering, for stuff.  This decision validates these business models, and that is simply a call worth cheering! Let us, as consumers, friends, neighbors, assume the risk of being involved in a peer to peer transactions.

Look- we may not like to admit this- but the first time something goes terribly wrong, Lobbyist, blogs, FB postings, news media will all point to some regulatory body, and say ”how could you let this happen?!” Come on…..you know this is true… However, when when regulators try, to wrap us in a cocoon of safety that we don’t really need, nor requested, innovations holding tremendous societal benefits get stifled!  When it comes to economic growth, disruptive innovators create jobs, BUT- the friction has to be minimized. Again- this decision could have come down on the side of business killing friction- and IT DID NOT! Hat’s off, Kudos, Shout-outs and congrats to all involved in this outcome!

As an Aside….doesn't this decision also highlight how NY is really the “Alamo” for the status quo? Oh well, plenty of other communities will derive the benefits by just letting us have access to stuff without always having to buy it.  So, from one person’s perspective, who happens to live in this space,we are cheering the CPUC for their vote of confidence in us, as consumers, the p2p sharing community, and as grown-ups willing to live with the choices we make getting from Point A to Point B. 

PS- for all those raising their voices claiming the shared transportation models have an unfair business advantage- please go purchase Kodak photo paper, print every digital photo you have on any device, then delete all of those photos so you only have 1 hard copy- and promise to NEVER use a digital device again for the purposes of capturing an image.  After you go to a local camera store and purchase your used SLR film camera- then you can scream all you want about unfair practices.  Remember- you can't buy the camera on Ebay either, and while we are at it- delete all music stored digitally.