KAILUA-KONA — Cab companies in Hawaii are about to absorb another blow to an already diminishing share of fares across neighbor island counties.
Transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, competitors of county cabbies, made their debut on Hawaii Island in March 2017. Since that time, taxi drivers have complained that TNCs, also known as rideshare companies, possess unfair advantages under county code in that they aren’t regulated as severely and aren’t subject to the same early costs and upfront fees as cab drivers.
One area of protection the state has afforded traditional taxi services is access to neighbor island airports. Uber and Lyft drivers have been permitted to drop off riders at their departure gates, but the business of airport arrivals has remained reserved for cabbies alone.
Starting Feb. 1, that last built-in advantage disappears.
The state Department of Transportation announced Thursday in a press release rideshare companies’ eligibility to vie for arrival business at neighbor island airports beginning next month.
“The transportation network companies have been well received by the public at (Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu) and we are pleased to offer the option to neighbor island travelers,” Ross Higashi, deputy director of the DOT Airports Division, said in the release.
The department has established designated rideshare pick up zones on Hawaii Island at both Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole and Hilo International Airport.
HDOT has also established similar zones at Kahului Airport, Lihue Airport and Kapalua Airport on other neighbor islands, according to the release. In Kona, the area is right between terminals 1 and 2.
Lyft announced in a release Thursday its intent to start providing airport pick up service immediately after it becomes legal.
“We’re thrilled to be expanding Lyft’s operations to our neighbor island airports,” Rob Mora, Lyft’s Hawaii market manager, said in a press release. “We’re thankful to the HDOT team for their collaboration and we look forward to providing a great rider and driver experience at all the included airports.”
Lyft added in its release that the Hawaii airports are soon to join the now more than 350 others the company services in North America.
John Breslin, owner of Kona Taxicab, isn’t sure the proliferation of rideshare services across the islands, let alone the country, is necessarily a good thing. And according to Breslin, that’s about more than just bottom lines — both his and the customers’.
“Society needs to decide in general what they want, the most affordable service or the safest service,” said Breslin, asserting that taxicabs and taxi drivers go through more rigorous vetting and inspection processes than vehicles that run for Lyft and Uber.
According to Uber’s website, all drivers have to pass extensive driving and criminal background checks repeated annually.
The same goes for safety checks that include uploads verifying the vehicle has passed an inspection and received a safety standard certificate. Approved vehicles must also be a 2006 model or newer, the website said.
According to the HDOT release, Gov. David Ige approved amended administrative rules allowing rideshare companies to apply for the necessary permits for full airport service after the state convened public hearings on the issue across Hawaii in May and June. Those rules went into effect Aug. 24, 2018.
Administrative rules governing Hawaii airports hadn’t been changed in 16 years.
State law requires TNCs comply with specific insurance requirements as well as pay “the associated fees,” along with meeting other mandated obligations before HDOT will issue the relevant permits to rideshare drivers, the HDOT release explained.