The Hawaii Department of Transportation is cracking down on two ride services that entered the Oahu market in June, ordering them to stop picking up and dropping off passengers at Honolulu International Airport.

Last month, Roy Sakata, manager of DOT’s Oahu airport division, sent letters to San Francisco-based companies UberX and Lyft informing them that their drivers were not allowed to provide rides to and from the airport without obtaining permits and paying applicable fees.

Both companies — popular for their smart phone apps that hail cars — employ freelance drivers in what they characterize as informal “ride sharing” services.

While UberX has discontinued its airport service, it’s not clear if Lyft is complying. 

Lyft spokeswoman Katie Dally would only say that the company was working with state officials to address their concerns. 

“We look forward to continuing productive and collaborative conversations with airports in Hawaii and across the country to come to a conclusion that preserves a way forward for this community-powered transportation movement,” she said by email.

Ky Vuong Lyft car service  Mercedes

Ky Vuong, a Lyft driver, sits atop his Mercedes sporting the company’s signature pink mustache.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

UberX drivers have told Civil Beat that they have been instructed not to do any more airport runs. And a spokeswoman for the company said that only Uber’s licensed taxi and black car services, are operating at the airport.

“Currently, travelers can request any driver partners that are licensed to pick up passengers from the airport,” Eva Behrend, a spokeswoman for Uber, said by email. “This includes driver partners who are on both UberTaxi and UberBlack platforms.”

DOT spokesman Derek Inoshita said that two drivers had initially been issued tickets at the airport, however the citations were subsequently dropped while transportation officials work to resolve the dispute with Uber and Lyft. 

Local taxi companies, including EcoCab and Charley’s Taxi, have argued that UberX and Lyft are essentially bandit cabs, dodging costly regulations that cab drivers have to comply with and leading to unfair market competition. They’ve urged city officials, which license taxis, to step in, but to little avail so far. However, the City Council’s Transportation Committee has scheduled a discussion on the issue at its next meeting later this month.

The nascent fight over UberX and Lyft on Oahu resembles debates that have roiled other major cities throughout the United States and in Europe, with traditional taxi companies at times taking to the streets in protest.

In recent months, some cities have ordered the interlopers to stop operating or forged some sort of regulatory compromise.

Both Lyft and UberX argue that their “ride-sharing” services, which provide below market fares, foster market competition and provide consumers with options. Cars are easily hailed with a phone app and passengers can track their drivers on a GPS map. Also, no fares are exchanged because the companies automatically deduct the cost of the ride from passengers’ credit cards on file.

Dally said that Lyft, which takes “donations” rather than fares, employs a very different model from regular taxis. 

“For example, Lyft does not own vehicles or employ drivers — Lyft drivers are professional drivers and use their own cars, that they use primarily for personal use, to drive when they have the time,” she said by email. “As a result, trying to fit Lyft into the existing model is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”

Executives at taxi companies disagree and argue that companies like Lyft and UberX provide services that are no different than a regular taxi service.

You can read DOT’s letter to Lyft below. An identical letter was sent to Uber:

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