Passengers step off the plane at Gainesville Regional Airport looking to catch a ride. Taxis, shuttles or buses are among the main options, but a new player has entered the game, and the rules are changing.
Uber, a ride-hailing service allowing users to request a ride with the tap of an app, has competed with Gainesville taxi companies since August.
The airport authority already passed regulations that will compensate for the competition Uber creates, according to Allan Penksa, CEO of Gainesville Regional Airport. The goal is to put the two competing transportation services on equal footing.
Airport officials offered Uber two options to pay the required ground-vehicle concession fees. Penksa said the fees, along with self-generated operating funds, are used to maintain airport buildings, grounds, runways and other infrastructure.
Uber was given the option to register individual vehicles for the same price as taxi companies or register an unlimited number of cars for $2,500 per year. Uber chose the second option, which Penksa believes fits better with their business plan.
“Uber’s drivers are much more transient,” Penksa said. “It seems that its best for both parties if there is a lump sum fee that would cover all drivers.”
Since Uber carved its way into the transportation market, taxi drivers have expressed concern that Uber is not held to the same standards. Gainesville Regional Airport worked to mend the disparity by reducing the annual passenger pick-up fees and eliminating the drop-off fees.
Off-site drivers previously paid $200 per year to pick up passengers for a prearranged ride. Now they will pay $50. On-site drivers will now pay $100 per year to wait in the curbside queue, instead of $200.
Anthony Dalpra, a 70-year-old Uber driver, said he has no problem with officials attempting to make the playing field more even. He believes that if Uber picks up the extra fees, it will continue to be an alluring platform for employment.
But Dalpra has already been affected by the airport’s changing rules. During the holiday season, he said airport security threatened to impound his vehicle. Penksa, however, said the airport doesn’t have the authority to impound vehicles, and drivers will first receive a series of warnings before they are charged with trespassing.
Dalpra said his passengers are disappointed the airport won’t allow travelers to ride with the most inexpensive service available.
“I have not gotten one person that has not been upset with the airport giving us a problem, in that we couldn’t put the luggage in the trunk or take care of them properly,” he said.
Penksa understands there will be misunderstandings, as most airports are dealing with similar issues. Uber created a business model that failed to comply with current laws, causing confusion among passengers and providers, he said.
Competition between Uber and taxi cabs varies. Some taxi drivers use the app to locate Uber drivers and report them to airport security. Edwin Ricci, CEO of AA Taxi, said he is not personally threatened by the service.
“Uber seems to be a presence that’s here and is here to stay,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that competition. I just want a level playing field and, so far, the commissioners have promised that.”
Uber accepted the ground-vehicle concession policies set by Gainesville Regional Airport, and the airport is waiting for the company to sign off on a draft agreement that will solidify the acceptance into a legal format. In the meantime, Uber is allowed to drop passengers off at the airport but not pick them up.
The Gainesville City Commission will be discussing the regulations at the next commission meeting on June 18, according to Rebeka Perkins, executive assistant to the city commission. It will be up to city officials to find a middle ground for companies that differ greatly on registration, background checks, vehicle inspection and insurance requirements.
The Office of the City Attorney created a draft ordinance that was sent to stakeholders, which includes traditional for-hire vehicles such as taxi cabs, primary transportation networking company Uber, the airport and the Chamber of Commerce. Penksa hopes it will be on its way to approval with any added changes in two-to-four weeks. No deadline has been confirmed.
“This is an entirely new regulatory framework,” said Bob Woods, spokesman for the city. “The city commission will review it, and city staff will make the required changes as expeditiously as possible.”
“It’s achievable, but it’s an ambitious schedule,” he added.
The airport authority would like both companies to be fully registered and in compliance with the law, with regulations that fairly cover and treat both transportation services.
“We hope the city and the state will do the same thing,” Penksa said.