Charleston airport board postpones new regulations for Uber, taxis

The Charleston County Aviation Authority is considering new regulations for taxi and Uber drivers at Charleston International.

It’s back to the drawing board for a Charleston airport panel trying to come up with a fair way to regulate traditional taxi drivers and newcomer Uber.

The Charleston County Aviation Authority’s board voted unanimously Thursday to postpone action on a proposed ordinance regulating ground transportation at Charleston International after several taxi drivers showed up to complain the new fees are unfair.

They specifically did not like a proposal to reduce the amount passengers pay — from $14 to $4 per person — for more than two people in a cab. The meter fare for taxis from the airport is $2.52 per mile with no additional charge for the first two passengers.

Taxi drivers called the planned changes “absurd” and the effect “astronomical.”

“We have seen an increase in competition and cost,” said Rubin Nelson, head of the Airport Limo Taxi Association. He called the marked-down fares a 71 percent decrease in revenue for taxi drivers and is glad the Aviation Authority is reconsidering the ordinance.

“We can’t afford to have a drop in taxi fares,” said driver George Heyward of Quality Transportation.

The proposed drop in cab fares resulted after former board member Mallory Factor asked about two years ago that they be reviewed because he thought they were too high for additional passengers.

Taxi drivers are upset not only with the prospect of losing money, but also with the arrival of app-based rider service Uber, which they say is cutting into their business.

“We keep getting reduced, and Uber is taking half of our customers away,” said Margaret McCall with MGM Grand Transport.

The airport’s proposed ordinance calls for Uber to pay $3.50 per pickup, which will be passed on to consumers. There is no drop-off fee.

Taxi and shuttle drivers pay $200 a month per vehicle to operate at the airport. They also pay an annual fee of $120.

The two sides had reached an earlier agreement allowing Uber to operate at the airport. Under that arrangement, Uber pays $80.50 per day. That fee will go away if the pickup fee is adopted, under the current plan.

“While the delay to create a permanent solution for ridesharing at CHS is disappointing, we will continue to operate under the temporary agreement in place for us at CHS,” said Michael Black, general manager of Uber South Carolina. “We have worked in good faith with airport staff on the proposed rules and feel that they reflect the unique ridesharing business model.”

The suggested Uber pickup fee became part of the deal being considered after the airport and ride service reached an agreement recently.

The ordinance also called for “transportation network companies” such as Uber to display signage on vehicles, keep trip records and maintain $1 million in insurance. Taxi drivers must maintain the same amount of insurance.

Airport Director Paul Campbell said Uber is becoming more accepted and it’s up to the Aviation Authority to make sure its regulations are fair to the new service and taxi drivers.

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“We are going to work out a deal to try to make everybody happy,” Campbell said Friday.

“We tried to make it fair for everybody, and I don’t think it is fair,” Aviation Authority Chairman Billy Swails added.

Aviation Authority attorney Arnold Goodstein, who helped draft the ordinance, said the board tried to appease all parties by not giving anyone a competitive advantage.

He said the proposed ordinance came about because Uber officials have been involved while the regulations were drawn up and others have not been as active in the discussions.

“We can work on it,” Goodstein said. “It is a struggle. You have competing interests. We have to figure out how to balance it.”

Taxi drivers also said they had little input into the proposed new rules and knew little about them until earlier this week.

Walter Hundley, chairman of the committee that’s looking into the issue, said he would work to make sure all parties are heard as the panel drafts new language.

Nelson, of the taxi association, said that will give his group “a clearer picture ... and an opportunity to participate.”

Reach Allison Prang at 843-937-5705 or Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524.