Boise & Garden City

Lyft and Uber drivers clog the Boise Airport’s waiting lane, and it’s perfectly legal

A Lyft driver waits in the Boise Airport’s cell phone lane last Wednesday. A 2015 Idaho law keeps the airport, a division of city government,  from regulating companies like Lyft and Uber, including where drivers wait for customers.
A Lyft driver waits in the Boise Airport’s cell phone lane last Wednesday. A 2015 Idaho law keeps the airport, a division of city government, from regulating companies like Lyft and Uber, including where drivers wait for customers. sberg@IdahoStatesman.com

If you’ve picked someone up at the Boise Airport lately, there’s a good chance you had to fight for a spot in the cellphone waiting lane. Professional drivers are one reason.

These aren’t taxis, which have their own waiting area — and pay for it. They’re drivers for transportation companies Lyft and Uber. At any given time, three or four of these companies’ drivers might be in the waiting lane, which can accommodate about 14 cars and isn’t meant for commercial use.

Airport officials worry about safety, spokesman Sean Briggs said. Sometimes the waiting line, located on the lower level approach a few hundred feet before the arrivals terminal, is so long that it backs up into traffic lanes. They worry that this will force more drivers to circle through arrivals, endangering people walking between the terminal and the parking garage.

But Briggs said the airport can’t stop it. The Boise Airport is run by the city. Three years ago, the Idaho Legislature stripped cities of authority to regulate companies such as Lyft and Uber, though it allowed them to continue governing taxis and limousines.

At the time, Boise was locked in a testy back-and-forth with Uber over the city’s attempts to regulate the company and its drivers. Uber had launched Boise service in October 2014, but cut it off in February 2015, as the City Council weighed what Uber called “unworkable and onerous regulations.”

So Uber went over Boise’s head. The company wrote a bill for the Legislature with less strict rules than Boise had proposed. The bill passed the House and Senate easily on the strength of a Republican majority. Most Democrats voted against it.

It became law without Gov. Butch Otter’s signature.

“We tried to work with Uber to establish these operating procedures early on, but the Legislature just kind of took that out of our hands,” Briggs said.

State Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, the Uber bill’s floor sponsor, said the law wasn’t intended to allow professional drivers to hang out in the airport’s waiting lane.

“I can definitely see that that might cause some issues,” Monks said. “If we’ve got problems as a result of that, we should definitely take looks and see what we can do.”

It’s unclear how often Uber and Lyft drivers use the airport’s cellphone waiting lane. That information wasn’t available from either company, and the airport doesn’t track it. Several times last week, Uber’s and Lyft’s mobile apps showed as many as four of either company’s cars in the lane at the same time. At least once when a reporter checked, six Uber and Lyft drivers were waiting.

Briggs said the lane often fills up and overflows around 10 p.m. The airport hasn’t received any complaints specifically relating to Uber or Lyft, he said, but it often hears from drivers who are frustrated because the waiting lane is so full.

Uber and Lyft drivers can’t use the taxi staging lane at the airport’s arrivals area. The state’s 2015 Uber law also prohibits them from picking up customers who hail them on the street. Many airports, including Seattle-Tacoma and Salt Lake City, designate special staging areas for Uber, Lyft and similar companies. The companies pay to use those areas, Briggs said.

“We would love to be able to work with Lyft and Uber so we could create operational procedures such as designated pick-up locations at the airport,” he said.

Lyft is open to such an agreement, spokesman Chris Nishimura said in an email.

“We always welcome the opportunity to work with an airport to create these guidelines to help our drivers and all airport patrons,” Nishimura said.

Uber has “been in contact with the airport about how best to manage ... vehicle flow there,” Uber spokesman Nathan Hambley said in an email.

“We are constantly working to improve the rider and driver experience at all airports where we operate,” Hambley said in an email earlier in the week. “So we’re looking into this matter.”

Airport officials are evaluating other locations for an additional cellphone waiting area, Briggs said. The airport hasn’t determined when the new waiting area would be established.

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