Editor’s note: This report first appeared in the June 14-20 issue of Caribbean Business.
More than two months after the Public Service Commission (CSP by its Spanish initials) eliminated any obstacles to allow transport network companies (ERT by its Spanish initials) to pick up passengers at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (LMM by its Spanish initials), very little is known on the status of this issue.
Long before May 5, the date on which the new CSP regulations went into force—which, among other declarations said Puerto Rico was a tourist destination—Uber has shown great interest in operating from the LMM. In fact, on April 12, 2017, and after a work stoppage by taxi drivers, the Tourism Co. signed an administrative order so private cars, such as those used by Uber drivers, could satisfy weekend demand for transport services. During that (three-day) weekend, Uber made 6,000 trips to and from the LMM during the first 48 hours.
“We have a commitment with users, and we are waiting for Aerostar to give us an answer about these conditions to operate at the airport. If it were up to us, this would have been done a long time ago, but we did not have the regulations from the Public Service Commission to do it, and we do not have that agreement with Aerostar. The regulation establishes that we have to reach an agreement with the airport operator to be able to start operations,” said Julie Robinson, Uber spokesperson for Central America & the Caribbean, to Caribbean Business two weeks ago, while Aerostar announced in the island’s national media that it had already started negotiations.
It was not until the beginning of this past week that Uber notified Caribbean Business that it received a response from Aerostar that formally initiated the negotiations. “The company’s objective is to comply with the regulations and ensure Puerto Ricans’ welfare,” Robinson said.
Aerostar’s mandate to establish its conditions for ERTs is contained in the regulation already in place, a provision that gives way to the negotiation process with companies such as Uber, who according to LMM’s management company, is the only company with which it is holding conversations.
“The charges, terms and conditions that may be imposed by the owner or administrator of the terminal, through written contract or authorization, shall be stipulated in an agreement with each ERT. These contracts or authorizations will seek to provide passengers the greatest number of mobility alternatives, and the charges, terms and conditions will not be greater nor more restrictive or burdensome than the charges, terms and conditions agreed to by the taxi drivers,” read the piece on page 135, numeral 7.59.
“We want to operate at the airport; that’s why when we were asked several months ago to please pick up people during a weekend, because the regular [Tourism] taxi service at the airport was not working, we provided the service. What we do not yet have and has not been given to us is what the requirements are for us to operate at the airport,” Robinson added.
Earlier in this past week, Caribbean Business contacted Aerostar to check on the status of negotiations with Uber or any other ERT. The company was brief in its statements, after claiming there were confidentiality agreements with Uber. It also could not provide a date when Uber would start picking up passengers at the LMM.
“We are currently in negotiations with Uber. There are confidentiality agreements between Uber and Aerostar. We can only say that we are in talks,” the company expressed through its public relations officer.
“We are and will continue to respect the approved regulations and follow the government’s public policy regarding taxi drivers,” Aerostar added through Varlín Vissepó, its chief legal officer & corporate secretary. Aerostar charges a $2 fee per taxi driver to access the LMM.
Regarding space limitations Uber would accept as part of the negotiations, Robinson offered several examples to illustrate the results of similar conversations at other airports at which the company operates.
At Tocumen International Airport in Panama, passengers can be picked up in a designated area, and both drivers and users are told there is a designated line for Uber. At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, there is an established “pick up and drop off” area, while on the second level of Los Angeles International Airport, the area is identified by a sign that reads “Ride Sharing Here.”
“We do not have any problem being assigned an area, but we cannot suddenly be demanded more than what they demand of [Tourism] taxi drivers. If they have a certain area, we also accept having our determined area, and in the end, it will also be beneficial for users because they can go to a specific point, and that is where the vehicle will pick them up, instead of moving from one place to another,” Robinson concluded.
According to a May 2017 Uber study, 98 percent of its users in Puerto Rico want the service to reach the LMM as [Tourism] taxi drivers do. In addition, 81 percent of them do not use traditional transport when leaving the airport, 35 percent resort to Uber to reach the LMM and 99 percent would like to use the service to leave the island’s main airport.