Travel agent Gary Jaussaud assumed the elderly customer on the phone was mistaken.

The caller told him she had dialed up the ride-hailing service Uber asking for a ride to Meadows Field Airport, but was turned down. Uber said it couldn't take her.

"I thought to myself, 'That doesn't sound right,'" said the senior agent at Kern Travel. "How can it be?"

Believe it. Uber drivers are prohibited from dropping off customers or picking them up at Meadows Field — for the time being — and so are drivers with the company's main ride-hailing competitor, Lyft.

The situation, however temporary, creates some real hassles for travelers. A driver for both services, Joel Hoffman, said he has witnessed passengers carrying their luggage a full quarter-mile, no sidewalk, all the way to Merle Haggard Drive just to catch a ride with one of the services.

"It's a heck of a walk," he said.

Airports across the country are dealing with the same problem, as ride-hailing services increasingly compete with taxis in what had been an established process of bidding for the right to ferry air travelers.

"They're all grappling with this," said Joel Bacon, spokesman for the American Association of Airport Executives. "It's an emerging field and a different operating model for ground transportation providers."

In Kern County, the problem arises from the fact that two local taxi services, A One Taxi and Blue Star Taxi, have secured exclusive rights for a limited time to operate at Meadows Field. They won a competitive bidding process called a request for proposals, paid a nominal fee to the county and can legally expect other services will stay off their airport turf.

But ride-hailing companies are not exactly taxis, a fact the county is on the verge of legitimizing as it negotiates a deal with Uber that would charge drivers $2 per trip to serve passengers going in and out of Meadows Field. If the discussions are successful, the same deal would be extended to Lyft, said the county's interim airports director, Teresa Hitchcock.

The main reason the county doesn't let ride-hailing drivers come and go as they please at Meadows Field is insurance. County officials said they want to make sure vehicles are covered in case of an accident.

The City of Bakersfield does not share such concerns. At the Amtrak station downtown, the city has established an area where Uber and Lyft drivers are permitted to pick up and drop off customers, as long as they don't leave their vehicle.

"We have never banned or restrained Uber, etc., from providing service to Amtrak," City Manager Alan Tandy said by email.

Jaussaud prefers that approach. He said the remotely located Meadows Field can ill afford to complicate travel.

"It's underserved by the air carriers because it's not always convenient," he said. "It needs all the access it can get."

The owner of A One Taxi, Armen Akopyan, disagrees.

He carries $2 million in general liability insurance, plus $1 million for car accidents. Having abided by county rules, he wants Uber and Lyft to do the same. But sometimes they don't, he said.

"They're not allowed, but they're doing it anyway," Akopyan said.

People familiar with the situation said some ride-hailing drivers do, indeed, violate the rules — and run the risk of being cited by the county. But sometimes it may simply result from confusion.

Hoffman said Uber allows him to drop customers at Meadows Field, but Lyft does not. Neither company permits him to pick up customers there, he said.

Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment.

Hitchcock said the county's first attempt at a resolution was to set up a "geo-fencing" system that would allow the airport to define its boundaries electronically. But the system ended up costing so much money that Kern officials opted to hold off and just negotiate a placeholder agreement with the ride-hailing services.

"We are moving forward with the negotiations on the Uber agreement, which will renew annually until a geo-fencing system can be installed," she wrote by email. "At that time, it will be necessary to renegotiate the agreement."

Hoffman said he was unaware ride-hailing services aren't allowed at the airport. But he knows there are strict rules, because Lyft detected when he dropped off one of its customers at Meadows Field. He was quickly notified of a violation, and if he does it again, he has been warned, his commission with Lyft will be canceled.

His hope is that the county and the two ride-hailing services come to an agreement soon.

"I hope it gets resolved," he said.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

(9) comments

LyonTamer

Well August is over, is there any update from Meadows Field about that Uber/FAA contract? Wings Way has been closed for construction all month as well, what's that about? I have had to drop passengers off at the intersection to walk through the construction zone because there is no roundabout or even any safe shoulder space to pull over, anywhere along Wings Way. If we go in, we run the risk of taxis taking pictures and calling police and the police check the phone to make sure we aren't sneaking someone in. The fine is $1000 yet with no roundabout we are forced to take someone to the door or at least into the parking lot, especially if they have a disability where they cannot walk that far. The airport could get sued for being inaccessible. Please update us all on the status of that Uber (Lyft too if it applies) contract with the County and the FAA. Thanks!

bpasqua

First off this is a money grab by the County of Kern and the Airport plain and simple! Second, ALL lyft and Uber drivers are live scanned and are required to carry full insurance. So this $2 rip off that Meadow's field want for insurance is a joke.

LyonTamer

Livescan is the fingerprint background check and no in California we are not. But we ARE background checked, they use a service called Checkr. Drivers have to have clean criminal background for the past 7 years and less than 3 points on the driving record, and those 3 points cannot be for speeding, wreckless driving, dui, etc. Insurance requirement is basic CA state liability or better. Most of us drive new cars so yes most of us have at least full coverage, and a lot of us do have the extra rideshare endorsement, but only the basic liability is required.

The $2 would actually be a facilities fee for the FAA.

Vladdy

Always, always, always,....follow the money.

99 Cent Comedian

I would prefer to use a taxi service. I've used taxis in the past and feel they are more professional than lyft and uber drivers. From what I understand background checks are done on cab drivers and cab services are regulated by the California Public Utility Commission which as far as know lyft and uber companies are not.

LyonTamer

Both Lyft and Uber and about ten other rideshares are registered with CPUC. There is a background check performed upon applying and once a year thereafter. They use a service called Checkr. Drivers must have totally clean background check and no more than 3 points on dmv in order to qualify in California.

JSmith

I missed a flight at Meadows before Uber. The taxi at Meadows told me he couldn't give me a ride because a incoming flight was about to land. I had to wait 45 minutes for another cab to show up. This happened on a Saturday at 7am in the morning. The cab that picked me up was rattling so bad I was sure it was going to blow up. There are certain times when the cab is cheaper than Uber, but not very often. You also usually don't wait for an Uber like you do with a cab. I believe the cab business model is done like the buggy whip. Taxi operators need to use the same model as Lyft or Uber. The ding a lings running the airport which without Federal grants would not even exist better get this straightened out. That drive to LAX to save $600 to your destination is looking better all the time.

LyonTamer

There are many drivers who will travel to LAX or from LAX to Bakersfield. The one-way fare is around $145. Just call your driver right away and make sure they are able to go. You can also schedule your trip in advance on either app. Lyft is actually better for this because we can see your destination on the schedule, so only drivers who can go will pick your trip. Another handy app to use for scheduling trips is Uzurv.

LyonTamer

I forgot to add, we have to have a special permit to be on campus at LAX, but even a driver who does not have this permit, can get you to LA, then you can order another driver locally to take you to your terminal. Always call or message the driver right away to find out.

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