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Airports struggle with Uber drivers ignoring rules barring them from picking up passengers

Some Uber drivers pick up passengers outside the terminal though they're not permitted to do so without an airport licence.

Sophie Boot
Fri, 15 Apr 2016

New Zealand's airports are working increasingly hard to make Uber drivers pay to pick up passengers as some flout the rules designed to keep them out.

At Auckland and Wellington airports, some Uber drivers pick up passengers outside the terminal though they're not permitted to do so without an airport licence. Drivers have told passengers to exit the airport and be picked up just outside the gates, using areas other than the designated pick-up zones to avoid detection. Uber drivers are permitted to drop passengers off without being licensed.

Auckland International Airport's [NZX: AIA] general manager of retail and commercial, Richard Barker, said the airport is aware of drivers continuing to pick up passengers without permission, and it's talking to Uber to try and deal with the issue.

"Ultimately, becoming an authorised operator at the airport can provide a great commercial opportunity for Uber to expand its business but, like other operators, they will need to contribute through licence fees for the infrastructure and technology that provides this opportunity," Mr Barker said. "As of June, when the new taxi licence period commences, we will have the technology to ensure only authorised taxi drivers can operate from the airport's drop-off and pick-up areas."

In March, the airport said the expiry of its current taxi licensing agreement provided an opportunity to change the way transport services are provided to and from the airport, with taxis waiting for passengers losing ground to Uber, SkyBus and pre-booked cabs.

"A primary aim of the new taxi tender is to create a level playing field for operators, which will create greater price consistency and value for money for customers," Mr Barker said.

The airport sees Uber fitting into the pre-chartered taxi category, where drivers would be subject to the same charges and annual registration fees as taxis which wait in the forecourt. The airport charges a $2 fee for on-demand pickups, and $4 for pre-chartered taxis, along with a $287.50 annual driver fee.

"This revenue supports investment in technology and infrastructure at the airport, including maintenance and development of the local road network, which is the responsibility of Auckland International Airport as the road-controlling authority," Mr Barker said. "We'll be looking for Uber to integrate these charges into their fee structure to continue to operate as both a drop-off and pick-up service. This is something Uber is increasingly doing at airports overseas."

Uber declined to comment but its website advises Wellington drivers the airport doesn't allow Uber pickups unless the driver has pre-charter registration.

"The airport may issue fines to any drivers doing unauthorised pick-ups," Uber said. "It is your responsibility to ensure you do not accept airport trips unless you are registered with the airport."

Wellington Uber drivers who are pre-registered can pick up from the airport but Uber warns it can't add the airport's $5 pick-up fee onto the trip price: "It is up to you whether you want to accept trips on this basis." In Auckland, the $4 pick-up fee is automated for drivers with pre-charter registration.

Despite the barriers, airports remain a popular destination for drivers and Uber has introduced a queue system for drivers in the Auckland and Wellington airport zones. Drivers are part of the queue while they are in the airport zone, and are pushed down to the end of the queue if they leave the zone or reject a trip request.

A spokesperson for Wellington Airport said there were a number of Uber drivers licensed to operate at the airport but it was not currently negotiating with Uber about increased access.

"Uber drivers need to fall under the same registration, licensing and customer service standards required by all operators when picking up passengers at the airport," the spokesperson said. "This applies whether they are part of a taxi company, an individual operator or shuttles."

Auckland Aiport's Barker said other taxi companies had wanted assurance that Uber drivers were subject to the same requirements as all other taxi drivers, "that they are licenced, use the appropriate areas for pick up and are subject to the same fees – which they are."

The New Zealand Taxi Federation's Roger Heale said all drivers should pay the same fee to pick passengers up from the airport.

"If you pick up and drop off commercially, there's a barrier fee and that should be paid by everyone," Mr Heale said. "I think you'll find the airport thinks that too – the airport can do what it wants and, if it doesn't apply the fees to everybody, it's missing out on revenue. There are all sorts of risks about having cars parked in the wrong area waiting for people, so there's a safety perspective too."

Uber launched in Christchurch in March. A spokesperson for Christchurch Airport said Uber was not currently licenced for the airport but the companies were in discussions.

"We will be treating Uber drivers in the same manner as other ground transport operators at the airport," the spokesperson said.


Sophie Boot
Fri, 15 Apr 2016
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Airports struggle with Uber drivers ignoring rules barring them from picking up passengers