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Uber logs 18,000 rides at ABQ’s Sunport

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A traveler gathers his luggage after getting a ride in an Uber driver\’s car at the Albuquerque International Sunport, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While lawmakers decide whether — and how — to regulate ride sharing in New Mexico, Albuquerque’s mayor is touting the nearly 18,000 trips one such company has provided through a temporary agreement to serve the state’s largest airport as evidence such services are necessary.

Mayor Richard Berry last summer announced a pilot project that enabled Uber drivers to shuttle passengers to and from the Albuquerque International Sunport. Uber pays the airport $1 per pickup or dropoff.

Uber reported 17,664 such trips through the first 4½ months of the deal, something Berry said proves customers want a ride-sharing option. But he also said having such service at the airport helps Albuquerque keep up with other “forward-thinking” communities.

“I travel around the country promoting Albuquerque, and it would seem awfully odd to me if I went to a major American city and came to the airport and couldn’t call Uber, and I use it all the time. … I would wonder why the city couldn’t get it figured out,” he said.

Uber currently has agreements to serve about 40 airports around the U.S., according to Uber New Mexico General Manager Steve Thompson. The details vary, but he said the Sunport deal structure is in line with most of them.

He said early figures from the Sunport demonstrate demand for Uber service.

“It’s a testament to how popular Uber’s services are, and how badly individuals across New Mexico as well as visitors to New Mexico want to be able to use Uber the minute they land at the Sunport and they travel across the larger Land of Enchantment,” he said.

It’s unclear how Uber ridership to and from the Sunport compares to taxis. Taxi companies pay a flat monthly rate of $1,193 to serve the airport but don’t report passenger figures, according to a Sunport spokesman.

None of the four taxi companies operating at the airport returned Journal messages Friday. All were offered the same deal as Uber, Berry said. None took it.

“That tells us they’re getting better than a fair shake on this deal,” he said. “And that’s fine. We want to honor their long-term investment.”

Uber, which uses an app to link passengers to drivers who use their own cars, has continued to operate in New Mexico despite legal issues surrounding ride sharing. Thompson said its contract drivers provide “thousands” of trips each week around Albuquerque, though he wouldn’t give specific numbers.

Critics have argued such companies should be subject to the same regulations as traditional taxis, but the companies say the state’s Motor Carrier Act doesn’t apply to them.

The Public Regulation Commission adopted guidelines separate from those that governed traditional taxi services but eventually dropped them, saying they would be revised. The issue ended up going before the New Mexico Supreme Court, which has yet to make a ruling.

Berry said he’s optimistic lawmakers will pass legislation during this year’s session in order to allow ride-sharing companies to operate in New Mexico. Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring a bill to make that possible, and Gov. Susana Martinez has urged support of the measure.

Uber’s temporary arrangement with the Sunport — which officials said last summer required Uber to follow existing state-imposed rules —will remain in place at least until the Legislature wraps the 2016 session. Even if a bill is not passed, Berry said he’d look for ways to keep Uber operating in the city.

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