LIHUE — Uber and Lyft drivers will be able to pick up customers at the airport starting next week, and some local taxi drivers are not looking forward to it.
“I hate it,” said cab driver Billy Galindo when asked how he feels about the ride-share companies being allowed at Lihue Airport.
Others answered the question in more detail.
“We don’t mind competition, but the competition should be level,” said taxi driver Steven Carvalho.
According to Carvalho and Freddie Labrador, who together have nearly three decades of taxi-driving experience on Kauai, the Lihue Airport is set up in a way that puts them at a unique competitive disadvantage.
At many airports around the world, signs direct off-boarding passengers to a line of cabs waiting at the curb. But in Hawaii, taxi drivers are required to park in a separate lot away from the terminal and can only pick up customers who call the airport’s dispatch service from a phone near the baggage claim.
A state transportation department official said the statewide policy against taxis parking at the terminal is in place to reduce congestion and allow more curb space for travelers, but according to Carvalho and Labrador, the rule creates unnecessary expenses for taxi drivers, is inconvenient for their customers and hurts their business.
Carvalho said he pays $150 a month to use the Lihue Airport’s dispatch service, an expense avoided by Uber and Lyft drivers, who are instead contacted by customers through the companies’ mobile applications.
As well, taxi drivers pay taxes and fees that don’t apply to the ride-share companies.
And both drivers maintain that requiring customers to call a dispatcher is inefficient as well, essentially negating the relative simplicity and accessibility that appeals to those who prefer to take a taxi rather than using Uber or Lyft.
For Carvalho and Labrador, it doesn’t make sense to have the dispatch booth out in the taxi parking lot instead of near the baggage claim. At the very least they feel airport officials should allow at least one cab to park at the terminal, to provide a visual cue for potential customers who might not notice the taxi dispatch phone.
There are two phones — one at each end of the terminal — fixed to cement columns under faded yellow signs, about 18 square inches in size, that read, “NEED A TAXI?”
“We’re invisible! They don’t know how to catch a taxi,” said Labrador. “All we got is the phone when we should have a human being talking to people, saying ‘You need a cab? Any questions?’ We don’t have that because of this dysfunctional system.”
“I think the system is outdated, and we need to get the dispatcher in the baggage claim here,” Carvalho said, pointing to a vacant area near one end of the Lihue Airport terminal.
Hawaii DOT spokesperson Tim Sakahara said the decision to grant ride-share companies airport access was made in order to give consumers more transportation options.
“It’s all about a choice for the people,” he said.
HDOT officials announced Thursday that app-based ride-share companies will be eligible on Feb. 1 to start making pickups from designated areas near terminals at five airports across the state.
Uber and Lyft representatives praised the transportation department’s decision, and HDOT Airports Division deputy director Ross Higashi said ride-share companies operating at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu since late 2017 have been well-received by the public.
Carvalho estimated he derives about two-thirds of his income from airport pickups.
When asked what will happen if he loses a significant portion of his airport business to ride-share services, Labrador answered for him — “We’re gonna find another job!”
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.