Taxi drivers (copy)

Some taxi drivers at Charleston International Airport want similar rules for taxis and ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. File/Staff

Taxis and ride-hailing providers at Charleston International Airport say they are being taken for a ride.

Taxi drivers aren't happy with the current rules they operate under, and ride-hailing services say fees are unfair.

Taxi drivers say it's time for uniform regulations and want state lawmakers to address it. Meanwhile, ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft don't like what they call "a disproportionate fee structure" and "uneven playing field."

Taxi drivers' complaints came to a head this week when they pressed state lawmakers from Charleston County to eliminate what they call "a double standard" of different rules and regulations for ground transportation providers at South Carolina's busiest airport.

"Uber and Lyft do not operate under the same regulations that we have," John Mason of C&J Airport Transportation said. "We would like to see them under the same rules and regulations that we are."

Mason contends taxi drivers are losing business to ride-hailing rivals and are limited in the number of vehicles that can operate at the airport to about 50.

"They can have as many cars as they want out there," Mason said. "That’s putting a big dent in us. Healthy competition is good, but not when they don’t have to do any of the things we have to do."

Walter Thurmond, head of the Charleston Airport Limo Taxi Association, believes there are areas where "the playing field should be leveled."

"We are doing the same work they are doing," Thurmond said.

The taxi drivers' concerns surfaced after airport officials recently adopted a new fee aimed at Uber and Lyft. The services must now charge an extra $3.25 for dropped off riders at the airport. Ride-hailing services already charged $3.50 per pickup at the airport.

Mason said the timing of taxi drivers' concerns is coincidental because he believes the perceived inequities have been going on for a long time.

"I have nothing against Uber and Lyft, but they don't conform to the same rules and regulations that we do," he said.

Under the airport's current setup, taxi operators are charged one set of fees and Uber and Lyft drivers pay another.

Taxi drivers pay a permit fee of $120 a year and $200 a month per vehicle to operate at the terminal.

They are also required to have certain levels of insurance, undergo background checks for criminal or sexual misdeeds and pay a fee to the S.C. Public Service Commission based on the weight of the vehicle. They also must have a business license in each municipality where they operate, maintain vehicles and dress properly.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft must maintain certain levels of insurance as well, have background checks and have vehicles inspected once a year by a certified mechanic. Like taxi drivers, proper attire and professional demeanor also are required.

We're starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us - it's free.


Insurance required of taxi operators ranges from $100,000 to $300,000 for property damage liability, general liability and auto liability, according to the airport's ground transportation ordinance.

Insurance requirements for Uber and Lyft drivers are far higher for the same categories, from $1 million to $2 million, and include bodily injury.

Instead of paying per vehicle charges or monthly rates, ride-hailing providers must pay pickup and drop-off fees to the airport to help pay for operations. The latter fee took effect Oct. 1.

In addition, one percent of a total ride-hailing trip's cost is a local assessment fee that must be sent to the state Office of Regulatory Staff every three months. It is disbursed to the city, town or county where the ride originated.

Representatives of Uber and Lyft recently balked at the airport's new drop-off charge and have asked for one-on-one meetings with terminal officials as well as long-term contracts to lock in rates.

Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, said he sympathizes with the taxi drivers' worries and plans to work with state Sen. Paul Campbell, who heads the airport, during the next legislative session to address concerns.

"We are working to improve working conditions," Gilliard said.

Campbell, a Goose Creek Republican, said he and other lawmakers will examine the fees and other rules to see if any adjustments need to be made.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.