Los Angeles

Changes on the Road: Taxis May Get Apps as Ride-Shares Get LAX Nod

Riders will notice changes as a result of initiatives by the city of LA to "level the playing field" in the competition between traditional taxi cabs and upstart ride share companies

Imagine using an app on your smartphone to hail — not a ride share car — but any taxicab in Los Angeles.

Imagine a ride share car being permitted to drop off passengers at LAX — just like a taxi — because the ride-share company has agreed to be regulated.

Both perhaps unexpected prospects moved forward Thursday as two different Los Angeles City commissions took steps to advance Mayor Eric Garcetti's policy "to ensure equal competition among transportation platforms."

Within a handful of years, the emerging ride share industry — think Uber, Lyft, Sidecar — has grown to take as much as one-third of the fares that once went to traditional taxis.

Taxi companies are licensed by the city and subject to stringent regulation that ride share companies maintain do not apply to them. The taxi industry sees an unfair situation.

"It needs to a level playing field," said Simon Gevorkian, a taxi driver who also is a part owner of two taxi companies.

"We should be on the same level — under the same rules," said Andrey Primushko, President of United Taxi.

Ride-sharing has flourished through smartphone apps that enable riders to connect directly with nearby drivers, without any need to go through a dispatch service.

In response, several of the major cab companies, as well as tech companies, have developed so-called "e-hail" apps for taxis.

E-hail apps enable a rider to view a map showing all the available taxis in his area, and to choose by clicking. Advocates say the more taxis logged-on, the more likely one will be close to the rider, making the service more appealing.

"You need to see twenty cabs around you," said Sachin Kashal, chief product officer for Flywheel, an e-hail app. "If you have only a two minute, you'll call."

At this point, such e-hail programs are used by fewer than half of the city's cabdrivers, according to Eric Speigelman, the president of LA's Board of Taxicab Commissioners.

A motion introduced by Spiegelman proposes making it mandatory for all drivers and all taxis.

"E-hail technology has the potential to allow the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to enforce minimum standards of quality, safety, and equal service more efficiently than methods currently available," reads his motion in part.

Meantime at LAX, the airport commission heard from a series of travelers asking for the option of using ride share services for ground transportation after landing.

The city-owned airport has permitted ride shares — formally known as "transportation network companies — to drop off travelers, but not to make pickups, as taxis line up to do.

The commission directed staff to develop plans for a program that would allow ride shares to operate at the airport and promote "a level playing field."

Significantly, the ride shares would have to agree to observe city regulations — and possibly even pay fees — in order to participate.

Though the ride shares have sought to define themselves as different from transportation services subject to regulation, the lucrative airport pickup market may be sufficient inducement to persuade them to relent.

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