ATLANTA - There is a fight raging over how you get home from Atlanta’s airport.
A Channel 2 Action News investigation found Atlanta police ticketing and impounding rideshare driver’s vehicles.
City officials and police said drivers are violating a ground transportation ordinance that refers to limousines.
“They know they aren’t supposed to do this and this has been going on for a while,” Atlanta City Councilwoman Felicia Moore explained to investigative reporter Erica Byfield.
Moore, who also chairs the city’s Transportation Committee, admitted the city has never officially told Uber about the enforcement.
“(Uber drivers) swoop in very quickly, get them very quickly, pick them up and get off airport property so they’re not enforced … so they know,” Moore said.
Drivers working for the rideshare service told Channel 2 Action News a different story.
“This is my main source of income right here. If I would have known that they would impound my car, no, I would never have picked up here,” said Uber driver Greg Shorter.
Shorter was ticketed and had his personal vehicle towed after he admitted to Atlanta police he was a driver for Uber.
“The Uber app explains that this is a hot spot for you to pick up rides, saying that when it’s in high demand this is where you should come for your fares,” Shorter said.
Records show within the last 14 months Atlanta police have ticketed more than 100 rideshare drivers and impounded a majority of its cars.
Atlanta Police’s Vehicles for Hire division does most of the enforcement. Records appear to show a jump in enforcement since January of this year.
Atlanta taxicab drivers said they are grateful for the enforcement.
“Well I’m glad they impound their cars, it's a wake-up call for them,” Sharmerke Yonis told Byfield.
Yonis said profits are down 40 percent for taxicab drivers operating out of the airport, a dip he blames on rideshares like Uber.
He said he understands why passengers like rideshares: the cheap fares.
Yonis said taxicabs cannot compete because they are forced to pay hundreds of dollars a month to the cab company they work for and the city for permits.
“We already lost Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead,” another taxicab driver explained to Byfield. “The only area that is left for us is the airport.”
Major Lane Hagin, police commander for the Atlanta Airport, said permits for airport IDs, airport decals and trip sheet requirements for drivers keep passengers safe.
“If you are an Uber driver or any of those other type services you run the risk of having your vehicle impounded because you’re not in compliance with the current laws,” Hagin said.
Since there are no Atlanta laws specifically addressing how rideshare drivers operate at the airport, Hagin and city officials said they are treated like a limo service.
“But they're not a limo,” Byfield stated to Hagin.
“Right, but they're doing the same thing,” Hagin replied. “They're not in compliance with the current laws. Most of the drivers are aware of it.”
Channel 2 investigators spent weeks monitoring enforcement at the airport. Byfield used Uber to leave the airport a handful of times without any problems.
Recently, our camera was rolling when officers ticketed rideshare drivers and impounded their cars.
One driver, who asked not to be identified, said he was shocked after he was ticketed and his car was impounded.
“Has Uber ever said ‘don’t pick up at the airport’?” Byfield asked.
“No, they've never said ‘don't pick up from the airport’ and that’s the thing that kind of bothers me the most,” he replied. “The risk is definitely not worth the award.”
The driver also said that Uber took care of his legal and impound fees. In fact, every ticketed driver we talked to told us Uber paid the fees.
Channel 2 tried to arrange an interview with an Uber spokesperson for weeks. They did not talk about the situation with Atlanta’s airport on camera, but Bill Gibbons, Uber spokesman, released this statement:
"With the recent passage of a sensible, modern regulatory framework for ridesharing through the Georgia Legislature, we are eager to engage Atlanta airport administrators in a constructive dialogue that paves the way for more consumer choice and convenience for visitors and residents alike at the world's busiest airport.
“We believe Uber offers some of the safest, most reliable and affordable transportation options for travelers and will continue to benefit both the airport and the city as a whole as we work toward a formal agreement."
New legislation passed by the state this year does spell out some laws for rideshares in Georgia, but not specifically at airports.
The law refers to the city to craft ordinances for rideshare enforcement at the airport.
Councilwoman Moore said that could take months, if not a year to do.
“It’ll be interesting to see how that process goes, I’m assuming it’ll be very controversial,” Moore said. “I’m glad the state has done something because that gives us the opportunity to do something as well.”
Despite that, Uber customers continue to ask for rides from the airport and drivers keep picking them up.
“If they send me a call this is where I’m picking them up,” said one Uber driver, as he was watching his car get towed. He added, “No one is talking, no one is talking, if they are supposed to be talking to Uber and Uber should be talking to them. It goes both ways.”