(SAVANNAH) Taxi company owners in Savannah are hoping for a change at the airport. Wednesday morning, their attorney accused the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport Commission of breaking the new state law concerning rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. There is no doubt that the rise of ridesharing options has meant a sharp decline in business for traditional taxis in the Hostess City, especially at the airport. The Savannah Taxi Owner’s Association is pushing for policy change, a change they say is backed by the law. There is no doubt the airport commission is taking taxi owner’s concerns seriously. Commission Chair, Steve Green says this is an important issue for the airport “The commission recognizes the taxi drivers as the backbone of our ground transportation.” said Green as he announced the change in the order of the agenda.
Mark Adelman, the attorney representing the owner’s association pointed to the new law that gave rise to ridesharing firms in Georgia, pointing to a clause that says ridesharing drivers are not allowed to stage, wait for fares in areas designated for traditional taxis. “Even the law written by Uber, carves out that specific point, so I would ask this commission to change it’s policy upon allowing Uber to stage. Doesn’t matter where you put them, if you allow them to be in a holding pattern, that is staging.” Adelman said.
Green concedes the airport has opened a nearby area for rideshare drivers to wait, but it’s a move designed to accommodate customers engaged in digital commerce. “Well we have to be mindful of the state law and we also have to be mindful of what the traveling public wants. it is a digital age.” said Green. Taxi company owners, representing 90-percent of all traditional drivers in Savannah say if the airport staging area for ridesharing drivers continues, it will continue to take money right out of their wallets. Lonnie Brown, owner/operator of Mrs. B’s Taxi Service, says her lone taxi has suffered in terms of fares from the airport since Uber and Lyft started hanging out at the airport. “They may pick up ten times to your one time…..and you’re still sittin’….. and waiting.” Brown said. Larry Green, who owns one of the biggest taxi companies in the city, Yellow Cab of Savannah, says just a couple of years ago, he had 90 cabs on the road, now, he parks 25 of them daily. Green says the new law that prohibits rideshare staging offers those companies advantages that traditional cab companies do not enjoy in Georgia. “We’re heavily regulated and Uber has a free reign.” Green said of the state guidelines for ride sharing. That law, 2015-2016 Regular Session – HB 225, does not require rideshare vehicle inspections and it also says those companies only has to disclose the current list of drivers to law enforcement. But the staging language is clear according to Adelman. It says, ” As used in this subsection, the term ‘stage’ means to stop, park, or otherwise place a vehicle for hire, other than a taxicab, in the loading or curbside area of any business for the purpose of soliciting a fare when such vehicle is not engaged in a prearranged round-trip or prearranged one-way fare. It shall be illegal to stage limousine carriers, as defined in paragraph (5) of Code Section 40-1-151, or ride share drivers, as defined in paragraph (3) of Code Section 40-1-190. A person who violates this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” So Adelman urges the airport commission to stick to the letter of the law. “Make Uber do what they’re supposed to do which is respond to their app. If that fare takes them to the airport so be it. We accept it.” said Adelman.
Green says the commission’s attorney will begin research and if a change is warranted in the policy of providing space for ridesharing drivers to park on airport property, that change will be made. “Absolutely…we want to examine their concerns around that particular issue, how it does or does not fit into the state law.” Green said. He adds that the airport commission hopes to have an answer for the taxi company owners by the next meeting, the first Wednesday in October.