Memphis International Airport says it will hand out warning notices to Lyft and Uber drivers and customers informing them the ride-sharing services are illegal.
Airport police were armed this week with separate warning notices for drivers and customers, asserting the airport's view that Lyft and Uber must operate under the same rules as taxicabs and limousines. The warning to drivers notes, "Further violations will subject you to fines and/or penalties as authorized by law."
But airport president Scott Brockman said police won't stop drivers from picking up fares, at least while airport officials come up with a policy to regulate the technology-enabled service.
"They can still do it, but we're going to let them know ... they've been identified as performing a noncompliant activity," Brockman told the Airport Authority board Thursday.
Uber and Lyft operate apps that allow passengers to use smartphones to summon a driver to their location. Local drivers, operating as independent contractors, pick up the fares and share revenue with the companies.
The upstart companies have drawn fire from the taxicab industry, which contends they need to follow the same government regulations as taxis. City officials said last week they sent a cease-and-desist notice to Uber and Lyft, informing them they're not legal in Memphis.
Airport lawyer Brian Kuhn has been reviewing the airport's response to Uber and Lyft, and Brockman said the board's ground transportation committee would be consulted.
Board chairman Jack Sammons urged staff and board members to keep an open mind.
"I could probably argue it either way, but I think if it's truly our goal, our strategic objective at the airport to create a positive, memorable travel experience, then we shouldn't have a closed mind to somebody's innovative idea of transporting people from Point A to Point B," Sammons said.
Kuhn said detecting Lyft and Uber is a challenge.
"Lyft has a pink mustache, and Uber has a medallion on the dash," Kuhn said. "Around the country, before they get licensed and permitted ... they're taking mustaches off and putting them in the trunk and putting medallions in the glove box. It just looks like your brother-in-law pulling up and picking you up. They are operating here. There were some in the cell phone lot the other day, we had reported. Detection is going to be a difficult problem."
A Memphis driver for Lyft, contacted about the airport warning cards, said drivers had been advised by Lyft to refer media inquiries to corporate officials.
Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson, asked about the airport action and whether Lyft acknowledged receiving the notice from Memphis, replied by email: "Current regulations surrounding taxis and limos were created long before anything like Lyft's peer-to-peer model was ever imagined. Regulations can be modernized to allow new industries to grow and thrive while still maintaining the highest level of safety. As we work through these challenges, we will continue to stand strong with drivers and passengers every step of the way."
Uber didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Taxis, limousines and shuttles paid the airport about $150,000 last year in permits and fees for picking up passengers on the airport's commercial drive.
©2014 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)