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