SALT LAKE CITY — It’s probably safe to say nobody likes getting a ticket, especially when that ticket runs you upward of $6,000.
When a Utah man contacted the KSL Investigators about his pricey citation, they had one question: is it fair?
Innocent mistake or intentional violation
Aaron Meservy drives for rideshare company Uber. Earlier this year, he picked up a family friend from Salt Lake International Airport.
Rather than using the Uber app, the friend texted Meservy directly asking for a ride. Meservy met the friend in the Uber/Lyft pickup location.
“I had no idea I was breaking any laws,” said Meservy.
An airport officer took notice, and asked Meservy to see the Uber way bill, which is basically a receipt showing the person you’re picking up used the Uber app.
“I told him I was here to pick someone up who wasn’t on the Uber app, and that’s when he gave me the citation,” said Meservy, “I was doing this really to be a nice person. I have never solicited people at the airport.”
Because he was not “on the clock” as an Uber driver, yet playing the role of an Uber driver, Meservy broke airport rules, and the airport fined him for it. “They were treating me as a taxi driver who didn’t have a taxi license,” said Meservy.
Meservey says he made an innocent mistake.
That mistake led to a citation for seven violations for things like no business license, no insurance, no inspection, no department seal, no automated vehicle identification, and no operator’s badge.
Grand total: $6,500.
“An astounding $6,500!” said Meservy, “which blew me away at first.”
Is it fair?
“You know, if you just follow the rules, you won’t have to pay those high fines,” said Nancy Volmer, spokesperson for Salt Lake International Airport.
Volmer says the high fines were established about eight years ago by the city council, to act as a deterrent for unlicensed taxis and Ubers.
The idea was to prevent illegal taxi-like services that aren’t regulated by the city or state, that might not be safe.
“All of the permits and regulations we have in place are to protect the passengers,” said Volmer.
But is it fair?
“You know,” said Volmer, “I think it’s fair for those providers who are following the law.”
Airport numbers show taxi and limo companies make about 65,000 trips to the airport each month.
Uber and Lyft make roughly 110,000.
So, the KSL Investigators went digging through city records to see how big of a problem these illegal pick-ups have been.
The numbers don’t lie
Over the past five years it’s primarily been in the single digits:
But take a look at those four months from February-May in 2015: 166 drivers cited. In some cases, fines ballooned to more than $7,000 per driver.
“That’s because Uber and Lyft were operating out here illegally, so they were being fined for that,” said Volmer.
Once the rideshare companies got the proper permits, Volmer said the number of citations dropped.
There is no indication the cost of illegal pick-ups is going down anytime soon. The belief is, the fines are doing their job. But Meservy argues, it’s too much, forcing him into a financial setback.
Does the punishment fit the crime?
“I mean, even people who are criminals trying to get out on bail, I don’t even know if they pay that much,” said Meservy.
So the KSL Investigators decided to do some comparisons and checked Utah courts for the suggested fines and bail forfeiture for criminal offenses. This is what they found:
Combined, these crimes still cost less than Aaron’s $6,500 non-criminal citation for driving an Uber “off the clock.” In fact, it’s even cheaper to bring a loaded weapon to the airport ($150) than it is to illegally pick someone up on the curb.
“It’s hard for me to say I’m not responsible,” Meservy confesses, “because I do have responsibility.”
But chances are he’ll never do it again, and frankly, he can’t afford to. He works for Uber to put himself through school with a car that’s barely worth more than the fine he had to pay.