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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta

Uber, Lyft rides coming soon to McCarran

21 October 2015

It won't be long before the public will be able to take Uber or Lyft rides to and from McCarran International Airport.

The Clark County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved a measure that would enable transportation network companies to operate legally in Southern Nevada immediately and reduces the cost of a business license.

Following two hours of debate in a public hearing, commissioners set the wheels in motion for transportation network companies, or TNCs, to drop off and pick up passengers at McCarran for a fee. Airport rides are expected to begin within days. Airport officials still have to mark designated pickup zones and install some signage, but most of the details of how dropoffs and pickups would occur have been worked out.

Representatives of Uber and Lyft beelined to the Clark County Business License office after the meeting to sign the paperwork to enable drivers to acquire temporary licenses. Now, it's up to the drivers to get business licenses, which will cost $25 a year instead of $50 semiannually as initially proposed.

Once McCarran's geofencing technology is in place, the airport will begin collecting $2.45 every time a TNC passenger is picked up or dropped off.

The only ones who left empty-handed from Tuesday's meeting were representatives of the taxi and limousine industry, who heard their pleas and recommendations ignored by the commission. Industry representatives asked commissioners to consider workers' compensation insurance to be required of drivers of vehicles operating at the airport, that Uber and Lyft cars be equipped with automated vehicle identification transponders, like taxis have, and that TNC drivers be subject to Metro background checks.

Transponders on vehicles could help stop a growing industry problem — that some drivers are illegally accepting cash rides with their phone apps turned off. While the geofencing technology planned at McCarran will allow the airport to tabulate how many drivers are on airport grounds, it won't be able to identify drivers who are cheating the system. Clark County Aviation Director Rosemary Vassiliadis said the technology would enable the airport to tabulate how much money should be collected from the company and that it would be up to the company to track down a driver operating off the app.

Representatives of Uber and Lyft assured commissioners that contracted drivers operating illegally off their respective smartphone applications would be removed from their platforms.

It was clear from the start of the hearing that Uber and Lyft representatives had briefed commissioners about their plans before the meeting after an acrimonious session on Sept. 15 at which commissioners were frustrated that the companies wouldn't answer their questions.

In a letter dated Oct. 20, Kelly Kay, vice president of business operations for Lyft, said the company was willing to agree to a fixed license fee of $25,000 a year to operate at McCarran as well as $25-per-year licenses for independent contractor drivers.

Michael Dorsey, director of public policy for Uber's west region, had a similar letter that concurred with the $25 fees and also committed that it would have a brick-and-mortar location within Clark County to provide customer service. Following the meeting, Jason Radisson, Uber's new Nevada manager, said the company is in the process of establishing an office location.

At McCarran, Uber and Lyft customers will be allowed to be dropped off at the airport's departures curbs at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 at various doors leading to airline ticket counters.

Pickups will be a little different. Vassiliadis noted in August that customers will be required to meet their drivers at numbered stalls in terminal parking areas near valet parking. At Terminal 1, that will be on parking garage level 2M and at Terminal 3, it will be near valet parking at Level V of the parking garage.

Ride-hailing companies will have to follow specific procedures for pickups that won't affect their customers. Drivers who want to provide rides from the airport would have to go to a staging area in a lot near Terminal 3 currently used as overflow for limousines and shuttles. Once they've arrived there, they'll be placed in their company's app queue and will be able to be hired in the order in which they arrive. Once a customer has made contact with the company through the app, the driver would proceed to the pickup area, either at Terminal 1 or 3 to meet the customer.

Checking in to the queue will also flag the airport of a driver's presence so the company can be charged the airport use fee.

Vassiliadis said the signage, lane painting and tracking system technology to monitor the companies will cost about $150,000.

The additional cost will be absorbed by the TNCs when they pay a one-time fee to the airport with upkeep paid for through the per-ride use fee. Uber and Lyft will actually pay more than taxi companies, being assessed the $2.45 fee for every pickup and drop-off. Taxis only pay when they pick up a passenger. The TNCs agreed to the every-time assessment to ease its own bookkeeping.

And, it's not as if the TNCs haven't already paid into county coffers. Since Sept. 16, McCarran officials have issued nearly 900 citations for the unauthorized loading or unloading of passengers at the airport. Those citations carry a fine of $100, which can be reduced to $50 if paid within 10 days.

Drivers have said Lyft and Uber have been reimbursing drivers for the cost of those tickets.