Sidecar warns drivers to steer clear of airport after arrests

Officials at San Francisco International Airport have cited a dozen drivers of ride-share services for trespass

The Sidecar app

The Sidecar app

Sidecar is advising its drivers to steer clear of San Francisco International Airport after officials there started issuing citations to drivers for picking up and dropping off passengers.

"We've heard rumblings that there may be increased enforcement actions at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and media is reporting a citizen's arrest of a Lyft driver," Sidecar told its drivers in an email Tuesday.

In March, the airport sent cease-and-desist letters to Sidecar, Lyft and Uber, "claiming that ride-sharing services are not allowed to operate on SFO property," the email said.

"We want to let you know that we are working hard to get this situation resolved ASAP. In the meantime and until the situation is resolved, we are advising that you avoid trips to SFO," Sidecar told its drivers.

Airport officials have made citizen's arrests of a dozen drivers from Lyft, Sidecar and Uber since July 10, airport spokesman Doug Yakel said on Tuesday. The drivers aren't taken into custody but are issued citations requiring them to appear in county court.

They're being cited under section 602.4 of the California penal code, Yakel said, which states that any person who "sells, peddles, or offers for sale any goods, merchandise, property, or services of any kind whatsoever, including transportation services," without written consent from the airport, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

They can be subject to a fine for the offense, though it wasn't immediately clear how large the fine can be.

The airport says its motivation is to ensure passenger safety and create a level playing field for other transport services, such as buses and taxis. Those services are regulated to ensure drivers are insured and vehicles are safe, Yakel said.

"These ride-sharing services are essentially not subject to any of that, which is a concern to us," he said.

Ride-sharing services are sometimes cheaper than the existing airport services, and often more convenient, since they use a smartphone's GPS to help people locate rides quickly. Yakel said the airport isn't opposed to ride-sharing, but that they need to be regulated before they'll be allowed to operate.

In fact, late on Tuesday, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a proposal that would make ride-sharing apps legal if they take certain steps, such as establish a driver training program and carry insurance coverage, The Wall Street Journal reported. The proposal could be voted on as soon as Sept. 5, the paper reported.

Until then, ride-sharing services will continue to be prohibited from operating at SFO.

Sidecar didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, and Lyft and Uber couldn't immediately be reached. Uber's CEO has reportedly denied that any of the company's drivers have been arrested.

It's one example of how ride-sharing services have run into regulatory problems around the U.S., though those problems have started to clear. In April, New York City said it would allow Uber to operate there, for example.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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