by Mike Montgomery
Tonight, the Palm Springs City Council will make a decision about the future of the region’s airport that will move the Coachella Valley into the modern era, or leave it behind in the dusty past.
At issue is a vote to allow city staffers to consider regulations to let rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft pick up passengers at the airport. This matter should have been settled last month but instead of making a decision, the five members of the City Council kicked the can down the road, without even laying the groundwork for their staffers to begin the process of ushering in modern policies for Palm Springs International Airport (PSP).
It’s never an easy road for rideshare companies. The taxi lobby is deeply entrenched, moneyed and willing to fight for its dwindling market share rather than modernize and upgrade its offering. That fight is in conflict with consumer demand, which is clearly and quickly moving to rideshare companies. Other major airports across the state, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose already allow Uber to pick up passengers. By keeping rideshare companies away from the airport, the City Council is turning the Palm Springs International Airport into a second-class transportation hub and marginalizing the area’s residents and tourists in the process.
Unfortunately, a cursory reading of the tealeaves indicates a disappointing outcome for rideshare companies. Currently, the City Council would likely vote against advancing this conversation. Never mind that this means rideshares can drop people off at the airport but not pick them up, a scheme that makes no sense to average people who are just looking for a ride. But such is the strength of the taxi lobby. Common sense would lead one to believe that there is in fact no difference between allowing platform companies like Uber to drop off passengers (which is currently allowed) and pick them up, but the taxi lobby has done a phenomenal job of warding off competition and will continue doing so until the threat passes.
Taxi officials have raised the false specter of alcohol and drug testing as an excuse to keep rideshare companies away from the airport. But if you think drug and alcohol testing do anything to make rides safer, think again. Study after study has shown that these tests are wildly inaccurate, easy to manipulate, and provide no additional safety.
Similarly, the taxi industry is trying to force ridesharing to use their antiquated system of fingerprint-based background checks. Again, rideshare companies have already found more effective methods for making sure their drivers are being safe. They do comprehensive background checks, monitor rides in real-time and encourage riders to rate drivers and file complaints (again in real-time) if necessary. The taxi companies cannot offer this level of service to their customers.
But my voice doesn’t count in this vote and neither do the voices of elected officials and residents of Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. The only people who matter are those five members of the City Council.
Uber recently circulated a petition in Palm Springs asking residents to voice their support for the continuation of the airport discussion — 3,000 people signed in one week. A taxi-led petition to stop the furtherance of Uber pickups at the airport garnered a mere 300 signatures. It’s clear that the people of Palm Springs, and its 1.5 million airport passengers, deserve to move into the future when it comes to their transportation choices.
The City Council should reconsider its stance in favor of pro-consumer policies rather than pro-incumbent protectionism and give the people what they want: an airport offering modern services for the modern era.