Protge: Uber Reluctant to Pay Aerostar Fees
More than a month since the Public Service Commission (CSP by its Spanish initials) approved its new regulation spelling out the conditions for taxi drivers assigned to transport network companies, negotiations between Uber and the management company for Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport could come skidding to a halt.
According to José Poupal, president of the Puerto Rico Operadores Turísticos, Guías y Excursionistas (Protge, or the P.R. Tour Operators, Guides & Excursionists), the impasse is because Uber seeks to be exempt from the $1 fee that tourist taxi drivers, and excursion and limousine operators pay each time they enter Puerto Rico’s main airport.
“There is a deadlock because Uber does not want to pay. Uber wants to enter the airport area without making any kind of payment because they indicated that wherever else they go, they do not make any payments. If the campaign originally was that there was equality, I understand that we must all pay. It is impossible for Aerostar [the airport’s management company] to allow them to enter for free,” said Poupal, who claims he has reliable information on the subject.
According to the Protge leader, the fee—“automatically” deducted from carriers when they pass through the parking booth for their shifts—represents a contribution of more than $500,000 annually to Aerostar, which depends on this income to remunerate its labor force. In the case of limousines and excursion carriers, they have an account that is debited on a monthly basis.
“The only reason a negotiation has not been held is because they have definitely not reached an agreement on the cost for access [to the airport]. We have to start from the premise that we [tourist taxi drivers, and excursion and limousine operators] practically pay a large part of Aerostar employees’ payroll,” added Poupal, who has been very vocal in demanding equal treatment for his members and is in contact with lawyers to challenge provisions of the law.
To be able to operate as a carrier in Puerto Rico, drivers must pay a $50 tariff. Excursion vehicles and luxury limousines must pay the CSP $250 per unit every three years, which Poupal considers discriminatory and excessive, when compared with the $50 that taxi or Uber drivers pay. The parent company of the transport network company pays $5,000, according to CSP regulations.
Poupal alleges, except for Uber, that every day the CSP inspectors intervene with transport vehicles under their jurisdiction, they are difficult to identify because they are not labeled or identified, which is contrary to what the law mandates.
“Today, at this time, there are not any Uber drivers registered, and Law 75, which created the new [CSP], stated that by Jan. 1, 2018, all drivers had to be registered and in compliance with the law,” Poupal said, referring to article 74(e) of the Administrative Transformation Law of the Public Service Commission, which requires every transport network driver to submit his or her information via a digital platform to receive a temporary CSP permit and be added to the commission’s electronic archive.
Does CSP favor transport network companies?
When asked by Caribbean Business, CSP President Luis García Fraga ruled out the existence of unequal treatment to favor transport network companies over the rest of the vehicles transporting passengers.
“The reality is that the Code places the same tax on taxi drivers as on Uber drivers. This is a message that José Poupal and other taxi drivers have taken to the media—that there is a difference in tariffs—but the reality is that he confuses what a tourist limousine is and what a taxi is. Tourist limousines are charged $250 because they provide other services that are not merely being a taxi, in addition to being allowed to have larger units, which are prohibited by taxi drivers and are under the regulations of the federal program we have with the [CSP],” the manager said.
Regarding the apparent breach of Law 75, García Fraga justified the CSP’s lack of records of Uber drivers, with the possible implementation of a digital file system. At presstime, the CSP was expected to announce the contract winner to develop an online service system to process all CSP transactions. A total of four companies submitted their proposals for this contract.
“We are awarding an RFP [request for proposal] that will give us the tool to make all [CSP] procedures through the internet more “user-friendly,” in a more secure and transparent way for all petitioners and concessionaires… As soon as the contract is signed, the first to enter the system will be Uber drivers, having them registered as required by law but through the digital platform and not through [paper] files,” García Fraga concluded.