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Monday, September 27, 2021

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UncategorizedUnited adds Uber app -- despite SFO ban on...

United adds Uber app — despite SFO ban on Uber faux-cab pickups


By Tim Redmond

Uber’s attempt at world domination doesn’t end with its somewhat dubious efforts to screw its competitors. The faux-taxi app is now partnering with United Airlines to attract passengers getting on or off a plane.

One problem: At a lot of airports, including SFO, it’s illegal for Uber’s faux-cabs to pick up fares.

A reader who is a regular United Airlines customer, and uses the United phone app, told me that the app offered her Uber connections for both SFO and LAX. And while Uber’s traditional limo service is licensed to pick up at the airports, the “ride-share” drivers are not.

And the app links directly to the Uber service, including the ride-share service.

The willingness of these “transportation network companies” to flout local laws is legendary. They’ve been acting as taxis in San Francisco without getting permits as taxis; there are issues around insurance.

But SFO has been one of the few places that actually enforces the law. Now, apparently, the largest tenant of the airport is partnering with a company that, if it operates its TNC service at the airport, is operating illegally.

I asked United about this. Charles Hobart, a press spokesperson for the airline, gave me this response:

The cities that Uber serves have evolving policies and regulations governing transportation services. United will only display services approved by the city and transportation authorities in our airport cities.

But at least one user of the United app showed me screenshots to the contrary. You can go from the United app to directly booking an Uber ride.

Here's what the United Uber app offers ...
Here’s what the United Uber app offers …

Here's where it takes you ...
Here’s where it takes you …

And here's what it offers
And here’s what it offers


Doug Yakel, a spokesperson for SFO, warned passengers to be cautious:

While I’m not an expert on the United app, it’s important to note that there are Uber services, like the limo product, which are currently permitted at SFO and could be hailed using this app (if it is set up for it). That said, Uber’s TNC product is not yet authorized here, so we wouldn’t want this app to create a false expectation that it is currently permitted at SFO, because it is not.

The distinction is more than a bit fuzzy. You think passengers coming in from other cities or other countries know that Uber Black is legal and UberX isn’t? No – they’ll look for the easiest cheapest ride, and that’s often the faux taxi.

Normal taxi drivers have to wait up to a couple of hours in the taxi lot at the airport; they are summoned to pick up passengers as passengers appear in cab lots.

And Uber driver doesn’t have to wait at all; he or she would just zip to the pick-up area and grab the waiting passengers. And since that’s typically at least a $30 ride to San Francisco, how much you want to bet that some drivers are doing it, despite the lack of legal authority?

And now United is facilitating the process.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. I saw a reciept from an Uber x driver for a trip to SFO that shows a $4 charge for “Airport Fee”

    Hi Sam,

    Last week, we sent an email letting partners know about the Uber U requirement from the State of California. Thank you to everyone that has already put the Uber U in their windshield- we’ve seen them all over the city! In response to questions that we’ve received from the partner community, we wanted to give a brief update.

    Ridesharing partners using Uber need to have an Uber U inside of the windshield of their vehicle while ‘Online’ and during trips.

    Further, the State of California has said that they will begin issuing $1,000 tickets to any partner on uberX that does not have the Uber U.

    After July 10, any fine received for lack of properly displaying the Uber U will be your responsiblity……..blah, blah, nonsense.

  3. Anyone who doesn’t like the pay scales they are on should quit and find a job that pays better.

    You cannot expect the consumer to pay more for a service just because you think you deserve more than you are getting.

    Ultimately nobody decides their own pay. It is your managers and customers who decide how much you are worth. and it seems that they have decided.

  4. Sam,
    This isn’t for you. Sorry that I have introduced it into our thread. A friend sent it to me.

    Dear Uber Support –
    I’d like to start this email by asking a simple question. Does Uber really care anymore if it is offering a superior product to its competitors or is it simply eager to win the race toward mediocrity?
    If the former, you all have some serious changes to make. If the latter, please continue as is.
    You see, I’ve been an UberX driver for a year and in that time, I’ve seen Uber grow from something that few people knew about to something that everyone knows about here in LA. I’ve also seen changes ranging from $2.50/mile all the way down to $1.10/mile. I hope you understand what this means (I’m beginning to think you don’t, however). There is a lot of chatter on social media from Uber drivers who are seeing their livelihoods threatened by the price cutting practices that you have been implementing. Now, I understand that the market is flexible and will change to support what it will support, but you have to know that when you cut the prices so drastically that no UberX driver can reasonably continue to drive for Uber full time you know that you’ve done something wrong. But it seems that YOU don’t know that for some reason. All I seem to hear back each and every time is the same party-line twaddle about seeing increased business that will offset any cut. This is ludicrous and insulting!
    I’ve tracked all my rides, expenses, and income since beginning with Uber and I can tell you that for every price cut you’ve implemented (until now) I’ve seen only a marginal increase in rides given. Let me be clear – Marginal. That is to say, for every 15% you cut prices, I tend to see from 3.6%-5.2% increase in business from what I saw before. The problem is that with the lower prices the net loss to me ends up being from 10% to a whopping 25%. And now with this latest price cut I’ve seen my profits drop by about 50% from when I started driving a year ago. If you don’t understand how drastic a problem this is for you so-called “partners” then you really don’t understand your business. If we truly were your partners and not simply a vehicle for evangelizing the Uber app, then you’d probably go to greater lengths to ensure that we were well taken care of. But I understand now that we are not your priority. In fact, far from it!
    Whatever metrics that you are using to essentially lie to each driver who emails you must be in error, or you must be actively spinning the information to your own ends.
    I have loved driving for Uber. It is a great job, and one that I am loath to give up. The questions is, what will you do to keep me around? Many of my colleagues have been discussing either giving up on Uber completely or moving to “Lyft”, something I’m sure you’d not like. If you constantly aim for the lowest common denominator in your business then you can count on chasing away high quality drivers like myself, and you will certainly retain the mediocre and even bad drivers. I’ll put it in business terms for you – You must incentivize high quality from your “partners”. If you give your partners a reason to be lax in their business practices (i.e. customer service, clean car, etc.) then you will become known for that, rather than what I expect is your actual goal, something a cut above the rest. Sadly you’ve missed here. You’ve aimed to become just as mediocre as “Lyft”, and you must see that and change.
    I am truly sad to be writing this email. Uber has been a great job for me this last year, and I’m hoping to be able to continue in it. That is entirely dependent on you, however, taking steps to ensure that you are actually taking care of your “partners”.

    Thanks you for your time and for your response,

  5. If you know of another reason other than supply and demand, and the public perception of what your service is worth, then I will be happy (and surprised) to hear it.

  6. “If your rates are going down it is because people do not perceive your service as being worth more”


  7. I am aware that some tickets have been issued. But my point is that it is extremely difficult for any airport official to distinguish a private car from an Uber car because Uber cars are private cars.

    And as you note, it is trivially easy to remove anything that identifies a car as an Uber car.

    Moreover I hear that most Uber drivers know how to “hack” the app so that they cannot be blocked or detected at SFO.

    Tim’s point is that Uber drivers are freely accessing SFO and that is my point too. Our only point of disagreement is that you and he think that more choice and lower prices are bad for consumers and I do not.

    If your rates are going down it is because people do not perceive your service as being worth more.

  8. Sam,
    I wish life was as simple as we are often led to believe.Your Uberx driver is not your friend. He is working to earn money, he is performing to earn a 5 star rating from you. When he goes below a “4.67” Uber removes him from your list of friends. Sam, would you be willing to stand up for one of your friends who were fired without just cause or an explanation? I digress. Your driver probably resents that he has to work at least two more hours per day to earn the same amount he made a year ago to give you $25 dollar ride to SFO. Please, the next time that you take your friend (who lives in Oakland, San Leandro, Fremont, Hayward, Or Pinole, btw) to the airport in his personal car, ask him (or her) about ticketing at the airport if they are in a non TCP Uberx. Also ask why he or she is removing the Uber sign from their windshield as they approach the airport. Better yet, ask why they had you sit in the front seat instead of the back, at the beginning of the ride, Sam.
    When do you want your month to start? And will you agree to the forementioned terms if I provide proof in the form of letters from SFO, tickets that have been issued, etc?

  9. Uber cars are just ordinary private cars whose owners sometimes use their cars on Uber business and sometimes do not.

    When I go to the airport in my car on private business, it looks exactly the same as when I go on Uber business.

    That’s kinda the entire point of Uber. It’s like taking a ride with a friend and paying him some gas money.

  10. Tim didn’t say anything about insurance. His claim was that a private car that happens temporarily to be a Uber car cannot pick up or drop off at the airport.

    I dispute that claim.

    Oh, and technically SFO belongs to the city and county of SF and is not a “federal facility” – a phrase usually reserved for federal prisons.

  11. Of course it’s illegal. Cars are not permitted to pick up customers at this federal facility without full insurance. That’s your choice? Not so smart to ride without liability. But then there’s a sucker born every minute.

  12. Sam, I drive an UberX car. If an Uber driver is picking you up at SFO s/he has a TCP. Uber TNC/P2P cars are blocked from the system at SFO. I will bet you, if you’d like. Here are the terms; If I am right you need to take a break from commenting on 48hills for exactly one month. If I am wrong you have to pay the next driver’s ticket if he is illegally picking up or dropping off at the airport, deal?

  13. I challenge you to recognize an Uber car operating at SFO. They are not required to display any special designation because, as explained above, they look exactly like private cars because they are private cars.

    A Uber car picking me up at SFO looks exactly the same as my wife picking me up, except cheaper. It is utterly pointless to try and ban them because they cannot be identified. It’s like trying to ban people with brown eyes from walking down the sidewalk. Can’t be done.

  14. Sorry, I have to chime in, Tim. Uber can pick up at the airport, so can Uberx. Uberx’s that are operating on the TNC or P2P platform are not allowed to pick up there. You can tell whether a car is allowed to pick up at SFO,or not, based on Livery Plates, a TCP # on the bumper, an airport transponder on the rear windshield, and the driver looks really tired from driving 1-2 more hours per day to make the same amount they did a year ago on Uber.

  15. So your lament is for a capitalist monopoly that provides crappy service?

    I’m going to guess you love PG&E.

  16. Just went on the UA site and sent a comment to Customer Service about this. I asked why are they promoting an illegal gypsy cab service at SFO on their app. Now their largest tenant has become a promoter of gypsy cabs. Anything for a buck in the siphoning economy!

  17. Uber is an aggressive advertiser. As an example: every other time I open up my incoming mail box their AD sits at the top of my e-mail list.- highlighted. I can’t get rid of it because it disappears right away. Perhaps if more people were aware they are out of compliance with regulations, they would not use Uber. However, I’ll bet “our friends” from the hi-tech world wouldn’t care one way or another.

  18. I think you misunderstand the sense in which Uber is “illegal” at SFO. In fact, it is not illegal at all for Uber to pick up or drop off passengers at SFO. It is only “illegal” (or more accurately, technically in breach of an administrative regulation) for an Uber car to pretend to be a black cab or limo and use the SFO services that are designated for those categories.

    But an Uber car can absolutely operate as a private car to drop off and pick up passengers because Uber cars ARE private cars. And every time i have taken Uber to or from SFO that is exactly what they do – drop off or pick up in the regular auto zones. And waiting, if necessary, in the free cell-phone car park a mile away.

    The whole point of Uber is that it is NOT a black cab. It’s called consumer choice. You decide which service you prefer and pick accordingly. I pick Uber but I am not trying to stop you using other options, so why are you trying to stop me?

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