Airport officials in Portland and Bangor are pushing the state for permission to regulate ride-sharing companies to address public safety problems and create equity with taxis and other ground transportation.

Under state law, municipal governments cannot place rules on transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

That makes it difficult to supervise ground transportation and safety at busy airplane terminals, said Portland Jetport Director Paul Bradbury.

“When you have a commercial operator you can’t regulate and put in a certain location, it is hard to effectively manage an operation,” Bradbury said.

Portland and Bangor are supporting LD 1010, a bill that would allow municipalities to pass ordinances on ride-sharing companies at airports. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled Friday morning in front of the Legislature’s transportation committee.

Uber has been operating in Greater Portland since 2014 and now has drivers across the state, including in the Bangor area and Lewiston. Lyft, its main competitor, started operating in Greater Portland last year.

The companies let riders connect directly with a local driver through smart phone apps and can be faster and cheaper than using a taxi.

Typically, when a passenger requests a ride through the service, the nearest driver responds. At an airport, that creates an incentive for drivers to idle at the arrivals curb or circle the terminal waiting for passengers to come out of baggage claim and request a ride, Bradbury said.

“At best, it is just congestion; at worst, you can have safety problems when you have that many people bidding for limited real estate,” Bradbury said.

The Jetport’s ground transportation spotters keep watch on Uber and Lyft apps to make sure drivers aren’t waiting at the curb, squatting in the cellphone lot or breaking other ground transportation rules. Those problems used to be more frequent, but Uber recently put in a virtual barrier around the baggage claim area to limit access, Bradbury said.

Many other U.S. airports have established rules that require permits or fees for ride-sharing companies, and make drivers wait for passengers in a designated area.

“I know of no other airports outside of Maine that are not actively managing transportation network companies,” Bradbury said.

A spokeswoman for Uber was not available Wednesday to comment on the proposed bill.

TICKED-OFF TAXI DRIVERS

The freedom ride-sharing drivers have at the airport has raised the ire of taxi drivers who pay steep fees to collect airport fares. At the Jetport, taxis pay $810 a year and passengers pay an extra $1.50 fee per trip to operate from the airport. Taxi drivers also have to wait in line to collect passengers and follow other rules.

Rental car transportation services and hotel shuttles, pay a $310 annual fee to pick up at the airport. In Bangor, taxi companies are charged an annual fee of $150-$450 a year, depending on the number of vehicles registered, and a $15 per-vehicle decal fee. Those rules don’t apply to drivers working with Uber or Lyft.

“Really, what it comes down to is treating all our ground transportation providers fairly and equally,” said Tony Caruso, director at the Bangor International Airport.

On Wednesday afternoon, Hamed Farah, a Portland taxi driver, was first in line waiting for a fare at the Jetport. It is frustrating to watch Uber and Lyft drivers take fares without having to follow the same rules he does, Farah said. He often sees ride-sharing drivers pull up to the baggage claim and get passengers while he waits his turn in the taxi queue.

“They are interfering in our business,” Farah said. “I don’t know how the city allows them to take our business without paying anything.”

Ride-sharing problems at the Portland Jetport aren’t new. In 2015, the state passed a law that required transportation network companies to provide proof of insurance, vet drivers and pay an annual $10,000 fee to the state. The law also prevented local governments from passing additional regulations on the companies.

A subsequent bill that year to amend the law and give municipalities regulatory control was unsuccessful. At the time, the same problems were raised as reasons to support local rules on ride-sharing.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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