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Leveling the Playing Field for Ridesharing at SJC

Here’s food for thought . . . Taxis have a monopoly over rideshare companies.

“Unlevel Playing Field.” It has been the incessant – yet completely inaccurate – rallying cry of incumbent taxi companies over rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber, that cannot currently pick up passengers at Mineta San José International Airport.

In June, I predicted before the City Council that its “pilot program” to allow rideshare companies to pick up passengers, launched on September 1, would have zero participants. Seven weeks after the “pilot program’s” launch, there isn’t a single participant. City residents, workers and visitors have been left standing, literally, at the curb.

It is why 93 Silicon Valley CEOs – with tens of thousands of employees based in San José – have written to the City Council to urge the adoption of a policy that allows ridesharing companies to serve our airport. Read their letter here.

Yet the cries of “unlevel playing field” are actually the opposite.

* Seeking accountability and transparency? A ridesharing passenger clicks an app and knows instantly the license plate, car make, driver, and consumer rating of the driver. GPS tracking follows every ride. And at the end, the passengers and the driver rate each other. These safety precautions are unheard of in taxis. It also explains why ridesharing companies like Lyft enjoy a passenger base that is 60 percent women.

* Concerned about the City budget for essential services? The City’s own 2013 audit reveals the incumbent taxi industry costs taxpayers $272,000 in lost revenue. The airport acknowledges rideshare companies will earn revenue for the City. At SFO, allowing rideshare companies at the airport has already earned it $4 million in just 10 months.

* Concerned about safety? The exhaustive screening process of ridesharing companies turns away 4 of every 5 potential drivers. When a recent official in another jurisdiction found a few Uber drivers had criminal records that should have kept them from driving, most media accounts ignored that Uber’s process screened out more than 600 would-be drivers, self-identified as current taxi drivers, who had criminal records.

Yes, let’s have a “level playing field.” But as so often happens, it is the entrenched incumbent industry that cries “foul,” while enjoying all the power of incumbency; including a playing field greatly slanted in its favor.

San José, it’s time for “version 2.0.” Let’s not leave our residents, workers and visitors standing at the curb.

The San José City Council wants to assist the taxi industry to help it continue to survive and thrive. That’s fine. Let’s keep in mind that when rideshare companies were allowed to serve customers at SFO and in Denver the amount of taxi rides actually increased. Rather than fighting over the crumbs, the pie grew for both taxis and rideshare companies.

The cries of an “unlevel playing field” are simply not accurate. Let’s let those who wish to ride decide.

If you wish to join me in respectfully weighing in with the City Council, please join me at the Council hearing on November 10 at 1:30 pm, and call or email your San Jose Councilmember and the mayor today.

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