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Uber, Lyft Soon May be Allowed Airport Pickups at Phoenix Sky Harbor

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Uber’s and Lyft’s independent drivers soon may be able to pick up passengers at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport just like they do at airports many cities across the United States.

The Phoenix Aviation Advisory Board voted 5-4 to approve a new policy that would allow ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft retrieve passengers at Sky Harbor.

But some ground-transportation providers oppose the new policy, saying they're concerned that Uber and Lyft drivers wouldn’t have to go through the same background checks that taxi, limousine, and shuttle drivers currently must go through to operate at the airport.

Under the new policy, which has to be approved by the Phoenix City Council before it can go into effect, Uber and Lyft drivers who pass the companies’ background checks would be allowed to operate at Sky Harbor. Both companies have stressed that drivers must go through extensive background checks before they’re allowed to be on the road.

Airport officials told advisory board members on Thursday that Uber’s and Lyft’s background checks are sufficient, but several ground transportation providers dispute that.

Jeff Conly, senior vice president of operations for Vitesse Worldwide, said in a phone interview with New Times that he’s concerned that the background checks Uber and Lyft drivers go through aren’t adequate. He pointed to how a man from Boston with a long history of driving offenses and a criminal record passed a background check and was allowed to be an Uber driver.

He also noted that the Scottsdale Police Department earlier this year arrested an Uber driver on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old. This incident is included in the “Who’s Driving You?” public awareness campaign’s list of cases involving passengers who were harmed or were victims of crimes while employing Uber and Lyft drives.

“The safety and the security of the passengers is my biggest concern,” Conly said. “I just want to make sure that everybody who’s there picking up passengers has gone through a background check and has been fingerprinted.”

The current background check that ground-transportation providers go through before they’re allowed to operate at the Phoenix Sky Harbor is stricter than the one Uber and Lyft drivers go through, according to Fran Heston, owner of Willis Sedan Service.

He said drivers have to clear a fingerprint-based criminal history records check, fill out a “security threat assessment” application, provide two forms of identification, and pay fees, among other requirements.

Heston said he’s not against companies like Uber and Lyft: “I just want them to pay and be screened the same way I am. That’s all.”

Both Heston and Conly said they’ll try to get as many drivers as they can to attend and speak out against the policy at the Phoenix City Council meeting when the members take up the issue. A meeting on the issue hasn’t been scheduled yet.

One of the biggest supporters of allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to pick up passengers at Sky Harbor has been Arizona Gover Doug Ducey. In his State of the State address in January, he called on Phoenix leaders to lift “unnecessary regulations immediately” and allow Uber and Lyft to operate at the airport.

More than 22,000 people agree with Ducey and have signed a petition asking city leaders to allow Uber drivers to service passengers at the airport. The petition notes that more than 30 airports in cities including San Francisco, Denver, and San Diego “have embraced Uber as a safe, reliable, and convenient transportation option for the passengers they serve.”

“Let airport and city officials know you want more choice in transportation options, and that allowing UberX to pick up passengers at PHX will benefit riders, drivers and the city the airport serves,” the petition reads.

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