Dayton airport taxi drivers angered by Uber

Mayor says ride-share service pays fee, but city is examining rules.

A group of taxi drivers at the Dayton International Airport have petitioned the city to ban Uber from picking up passengers at the terminal or force them to pay new fees.

More than 30 drivers representing multiple companies signed a document requesting the city take action to improve their work conditions.

Drivers say it is unfair that Uber can pick up travelers at the airport without having to pay per-customer airport fees and following the same regulations as taxi operators.

The drivers also asked to be allowed to access the terminal to use the public restrooms and patronize retail businesses.

“We have permits here and pay fees (Uber drivers) don’t,” said Shannon Walters, a driver with Dayton Express Taxi. “At least let us work the airport Uber-free.”

However, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said Uber has paid an annual fee for the right to operate in the city and at the airport.

She said the city in the process of updating its policies to comply with a a new state law that allows airports to regulate Uber and similar companies.

“We’re in the final phase of putting regulations in place,” she said.

A request seeking comment from Uber was not returned.

On Wednesday, Walters attended the Dayton City Commission meeting and submitted a petition signed by 32 contracted taxi drivers at the Dayton airport.

The document states taxi operators who work the airport are struggling to survive because of Uber.

Uber is what is known as a ride-sharing company. Customers download an app on their mobile devices and enter their credit card information.

Customers arrange rides from private-car owners or taxi and limo operators.

The transactions are digital, and no cash is exchanged. Other ride-sharing companies have expressed interest in entering the Dayton market.

Taxi drivers must pay the airport a $2.15 fee for every pick up at the terminal, while Uber does not, Walters said.

She said taxi cab operators also must pay the city an annual fee of $300 and are subject to inspections, a dress code and other restrictions not placed on Uber drivers.

Walters said the city should bar ride-sharing companies from picking up travelers at the airport.

She said taxis provide an essential, reliable service for local citizens and visitors to the region.

But, Walters said, Uber has an unfair competitive advantage at the airport specifically because its drivers can offer lower fees since it operates in a less restrictive regulatory environment.

“A lot of airports don’t allow Uber, but Dayton does,” she said.

Taxi companies across Ohio and the United States have accused Uber and other ride-sharing services of undercutting their prices because of lax regulations.

Uber drivers clog up the roadways at the Dayton terminal, and taxi drivers must wait in long lines for customers, said Abdoul Niang, a driver with WelcomeTaxi.

“We have a big problem,” he said.

Niang and other drivers also are upset they are not allowed to use the airport’s restroom facilities or buy coffee or other goods from businesses at the terminal.

He said more than 40 drivers must share two porta-potties designated for taxi operators. Drivers say the toilets are cleaned infrequently, often run out of toilet paper and lack running water.

But Niang said he does not think Uber must be banned from the airport. He said the city just should treat the company the same as taxis so it does not have a competitive advantage.

Mayor Whaley said the city is not going to ban Uber from the airport, and the company has paid fees to the city, but just in a different form.

In December 2014, Dayton commissioners passed regulations requiring Uber and other transportation network companies to pay an annual operating privilege fee of $8,500.

They also imposed some requirements on Uber drivers, including they must be at least 19 years old and carry the state-minimum amount of insurance coverage.

Whaley said taxis provide an important service, and she worries about Uber’s business model. She said the company has struggled to find enough drivers, which may be tied to mediocre wages.

“I am glad we have Uber in Dayton,” she said. “But I think the market needs both” Uber and taxis.

Last year, Ohio lawmakers passed legislation that took effect several months ago that creates common standards for ride-sharing companies across the state.

Dayton airport officials said they are ensuring their rules conform with the state’s.

“The Dayton airport is currently in the process of adopting the standards, regulations, procedures and fees for (transportation network company) services at the Dayton International Airport,” an airport spokesperson said.

Ohio’s airports under the state law have the authority to establish their own rules and regulations governing Uber and other similar companies, said Fred Szabo, interim airport director at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Ride-sharing companies at the Columbus and Cincinnati airports have to pay per-transaction fees. The city of Cleveland is considering imposing one.

The Columbus airport charges transportation-network companies the same fees it does for taxi cab operators and other ground transportation providers, said said Tory Richardson, vice president human resources and strategy at the Columbus Regional Airport Authority

This practice promotes competition and options for consumers and helps the airport recover the costs associated with maintaining and improving the infrastructure that transportation companies rely on for their business, he said.