Uber and Lyft drivers were allowed to start making pickups at select airports in Hawaii Feb. 1, including Lihue Airport, and taxi drivers on Kauai are feeling the squeeze.
The number of customers who request a taxi after getting off a plane in Lihue has dropped dramatically since the first of the month, according to dispatchers and taxi drivers who estimate they are getting about half the number of calls compared to two weeks ago.
Now, many of those drivers, some of whom have have depended for decades on the fares they get from Lihue Airport, find themselves on the verge of losing their livelihood.
One cab driver, Leonora Carlos, said that if things keep up like this, instead of waiting her turn for a fare, “next time, you know, we lining up at EBT!”
“It’s not profitable,” she said. “We’re losing money.”
Joe Llego, a driver on the island for the last decade, said he noticed the drop off in business immediately after the ride-share companies started operating at the airport. Llego said he recently waited for six hours, only to pick up a customer going into Lihue — a fare worth around $10.
“How you gonna pay gas?” he asked.
Llego and Carlos are not the only taxi drivers operating at a deficit this month. Several drivers told stories about waiting five to seven hours in the taxi parking lot at the airport for customers to request their services.
Andy, a driver who asked that his last name be withheld, said he gave up and went home without collecting a single fare one day last week, after waiting six hours for the taxi dispatch phone to ring.
Caroline Castillo started driving a taxi on Kauai Feb. 1, the first day Uber and Lyft drivers were allowed to make airport pickups.
“And then I wait here seven hours. For me it’s really bad because I wait seven hours, and then I get $15. That’s my one day,” she said. “How I can survive? How I can feed myself?”
Carlos, chimed in, “Not you, what about your two kids?”
When asked if there was any way taxi drivers could avoid going out of business, Carlos said, “Put us at the curb. That’s the solution.”
At Lihue Airport, 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 area.
Her sentiment was echoed by a number of other drivers standing around the taxi dispatch kiosk, who feel that airport administrators are enforcing a set of antiquated rules that are inefficient, essentially negating the relative simplicity and accessibility that appeals to those who prefer to take a taxi instead of using Uber or Lyft.
“I want an answer,” said cab driver Steven Carvalho. “Why don’t we have a presence at the terminal?”
Craig Davis, manager of the Lihue Airport for the state Department of Transportation Airports Division, could not be reached for comment. Officials with HDOT said Davis was out of his office and not available to take a phone call.
HDOT Director of Communications Tim Sakahara said last week he doesn’t understand why taxi drivers feel they are at a competitive disadvantage.
“In a lot of ways, the setup favors the taxi drivers,” Sakahara said. “They have a phone on site and a staging area at the airport, which the TNCs (transportation network companies) don’t have.”
According to Sakahara, Uber and Lyft drivers are required to comply with the same regulations and laws that apply to cab companies, but at least one taxi company owner doesn’t believe that is the case.
Greg Disilvestri, owner of 635-Taxi, wrote an email to airport administrators and the Kauai County Council last week, insisting that ride-share companies are given preferential treatment when it comes to making sure their drivers have the proper insurance and background checks required to make airport pickups.
“The airport does not have the individual TNC vehicles’ insurance or driver information. Instead the airport trusts the TNC to make sure that its drivers have supplied the TNC and are in compliance,” Disilvestri wrote.
“Can I/my company, a pre-arranged transportation provider who has provided Lihue Airport with 18 years of service, also be afforded this trust?” Disilvestri asked in his email. “No, I must supply the DOT with a physical certificate of insurance at the airport along with a list of other required documents, medical checks for drivers, etc.”
Disilvestri’s email also said that, contrary to common public perception, ride-share companies are not necessarily cheaper than taxis.
“Taxis are always cheaper than the UberXL (a van) and also cheaper then UberX on many occasions,” he wrote, explaining that because all taxis that operate out of Lihue Airport are vans or SUVs, they offer the equivalent service of UberXL, a more expensive option for customers with a large group or a lot of luggage.
One taxi driver is even trying to organize his fellow cab drivers, hoping to get a substantial number of them to offer their services via TagMyTaxi, a mobile application similar to the platforms used by ride-share companies.
Tusuenee Briggs said Friday that he has the signatures of 10 taxi drivers on Kauai who have agreed to use the app, and he hopes to start using TagMyTaxi on a trial basis under a company he plans to call Alpha Cabs.
“We’re gonna be pretty much the same thing as Uber,” Briggs said.
A spokesperson for Lyft said in an email that the company has received positive feedback from drivers and passengers about the new expanded service at Lihue Airport, and said Lyft executives “look forward to working with local leadership on how we may continue to provide reliable and convenient transportation options for locals and visitors alike.”
Uber representatives did not respond to a request for comment.