Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft operated out of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) under temporary permits during this year’s South By Southwest, although ABIA had originally said only Lyft would be allowed to operate.
The two companies signed an agreement with ABIA on March 13, allowing them to pick up and drop off passengers there for 45 days.
While Lyft signed a yearlong agreement ABIA offered to the two companies on March 6, Uber did not. The agreement on March 13, just a week later, nullified Lyft’s yearlong arrangement.
“The airport granted Uber a temporary permit, so we could have more time to negotiate a permanent solution,” Uber spokeswoman Debbee Hancock said.
The terms of the agreements required the companies to give the airport 10 percent of their gross revenue, a common standard for concessions operating at the airport, ABIA spokesman Jason Zielinski said.
“We’re a City department, but we’re one of the few that doesn’t receive tax dollars,” Zielinski said. “Every business that operates at the airport provides a portion of their gross earnings to the airport.”
According to Zielinski, after Uber did not sign the yearlong agreement by the March 6 deadline, the company’s drivers faced consequences for operating at the airport without a formal permit.
“Lyft began operating under that agreement and Uber was not,” Zielinski said. “So on March 9, their drivers began receiving warnings. On the 10th, they started receiving citations. Under City code, operating without a permit is up to a $500 fine — a class C misdemeanor.”
After Uber was banned from the airport, many people were unable to use the transportation options they had expected to use, Zielinski said.
“We experienced a large number of warnings and citations, and that was leaving passengers without a ride,” Zielinski said.
Airports around the country are struggling with how to regulate ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, Zielinski said. While taxicabs have been part of airport transportation for years, ride-hailing companies are a different animal.
“Cabs work on $1 per trip fee,” Zielinski said. “Cabs have different regulations within the city. … Every airport is struggling with [ride-hailing companies] because they’re unlike other transportation operators.”
ABIA’s proposal would have also required ride-hailing companies to follow all the same rules as taxicabs.
Zielinski said Uber’s financial records would not have been made public with this proposal.
“The information we receive is private — it’s something we look at and don’t publish,” Zielinski said. “If we were to look at anyone’s books, it wouldn’t be public information [because] we would not publish.”
Lyft spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt said Lyft was happy to be the official ride-hailing partner of SXSW.
“Austin is a city that embraces creative, innovative industries, and we were excited to be the first ridesharing partner authorized at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport,” Pruitt said. “We’d like to thank the ABIA staff for their leadership and commitment to preserving Lyft’s affordable, welcoming rides for Austin visitors and residents.”