Maine’s two major airports want to regulate and charge ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft that pick up passengers at the terminals. Airport officials are backing legislation that would allow those changes, which they say are needed to prevent chaos outside the baggage claim area.
Portland Jetport Director Paul Bradbury says ride-sharing services like Uber are a technological revelation. But the geolocation system that powers the service, plus the competition among Uber drivers for air-traveler fares, sometimes creates mayhem at the Portland terminal.
That’s because the closer a driver gets to the person who hailed a ride online, the better the chances of getting the fare.
“So if they can be right on you, tag you when you come out of baggage claim, they’re doing very well,” he says.
Bradbury told members of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee friday that says some Uber drivers will try to park in the immediate pick-up and drop-off lot, or sometimes chat up a security guard so they can leave their car idling just outside the baggage claim.
Bradbury says those tactics, while arguably enterprising, are causing problems at an airport that moves nearly 2 million passengers a year.
“We have to have rules to keep from having chaos in that we have a lot of people on a very small piece of property,” he says.
And right now there’s nothing Bradbury can do about it. That’s because state law prohibits municipalities from creating any additional regulations governing so-called transportation network companies like Uber. That provision was included in a bill passed two years ago that made Maine one of the 42 states that regulate these companies.
Now airport officials in Bangor and Portland are asking the Legislature to amend the law so they can create ordinances specific to airports.
They would like to limit how many Uber drivers can pickup airport passengers at a given time. Instead of a swarm of drivers crashing the terminal at the gate, Bradbury says only 10 or so would be allowed at a designated parking area at any given time. When the limit is reached, the app would stop showing pickup requests, but would turn back on after a driver leaves the airport.
The same system is in place for Portland’s 300 or so taxi drivers, some of whom pay up to $800 a year just to be allowed to pickup airport passengers. Bradbury says he doesn’t envision an annual fee, but perhaps a $2 trip fee for each pickup.
Uber’s response to this proposal?
“We had not been aware of any complaints from airports or municipalities that would necessitate the dismantling or tinkering with the statewide policy,” says Uber lobbyist Jeremy Payne.
Payne opposed the bill, saying the exemption created two years ago was designed to avoid a patchwork of rules and regulations among the cities and towns served by ride sharing services.
Payne also warned lawmakers that unnecessary regulations would send a negative message to Uber, which has expanded its service since first coming to Maine three years ago.
Payne’s arguments are similar to those made by the company in other states. But the pressure has increased to regulate the service at airports. And many states have.