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San Diego Airport, Rideshare Companies Strike Deal In Time For Comic-Con

An Uber driver returns to his car at the San Diego International Airport afte...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: An Uber driver returns to his car at the San Diego International Airport after helping a departing traveller unload his luggage in this undated photo.

Photo by Tony Zuniga

An aerial view of the San Diego International Airport shows where rideshare companies can pick up passengers.

Uber and Lyft will join rideshare company Opoli at the airport after ending a dispute over background checks.

With Comic-Con dollars on the line, Uber and Lyft have hammered out a deal with the airport to begin picking up passengers in advance of the convention, which draws thousands of visitors to San Diego.

Both mobile-based car services are expected to submit their applications for airport permits, and an airport spokeswoman said they could be operational as early as Thursday night.

This comes after the airport board agreed in a special meeting Wednesday to change some of the sticking points in its rideshare policy.

In April, the airport cleared the way for rideshare companies to operate at Lindbergh Field, but only a small Los Angeles-based company called Opoli took advantage of the offer. Uber and Lyft were holding out for a better deal.

The big compromise is that the airport will let Uber and Lyft continue using their existing background checks for drivers. The airport previously wanted to clear the drivers in a second background check. And the airport will continue to ban curbside pickup. Rideshare companies will have to meet their customers in terminal parking lots.

Parking lot pickups were a major issue for the rideshare companies during negotiations, which began in October.

Opoli driver Paul Davies has been serving the airport for a month already and said he gets some complaints from customers, but many don't mind the walk.

Davies said the airport business has given him a more reliable stream of revenue. Booths in the terminals now point customers his way and help build brand recognition.

"They can walk out of the baggage claim and see that name. This will generate more and more business for us," Davies said. He added that Uber and Lyft coming to the airport is good news for all rideshare companies.

"It's nice to see these developments," Davies said. "I think competition is good. It makes us all better at what we're doing and we strive for that."

But taxicab, shuttle and limousine drivers aren't excited about the competition.

Adrian Kwiatkowski is the executive director of the Transportation Alliance Group, which represents traditional vehicle services at the airport. He said Uber and Lyft get to reap the benefits of the airport without pitching in for it the way other drivers have.

Driver fees have helped pay for the transportation islands where cabs idle and for a nearby lot where drivers queue up before entering the terminals.

Rideshare companies will pay permit fees on a sliding scale based on the number of projected trips for the company, said airport spokeswoman Rebecca Bloomfield. The airport will also charge $3.76 for each passenger pickup.

Kwiatkowski said the negotiations to bring rideshares to the airport did yield some improvements for cabdrivers and shuttle drivers. The waiver for the second background check applies to everyone.

The airport will honor the Sheriff's background check for cabbies, which runs their fingerprints through a Department of Justice database. Rideshare companies will only have to follow state regulations, which honor background checks by private, third-party companies.

Taxi companies have alleged in a lawsuit those background checks aren't as effective because they don't use fingerprints.

Bloomfield said drivers are subject to random audits to verify their background checks.

The new rideshare permits will expire July 30, 2016, after which the airport will revisit its policies.

In a statement, Uber said this week's development is a win for drivers.

"Riders and drivers in San Diego voiced their strong support for ridesharing options at Lindbergh Field, and we at Uber look forward to applying for the permit."

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