Of all the competing regulation issues for car service app Uber, airport-related rules may be some of the most complex and inconsistent.
Airport pickup policy varies widely by city. As of November, only 58 of the 224 cities where Uber operates allowed airport pickups. Other airports only allow Uber pickups in certain terminals, or don't allow curbside pickups.
Many Uber drivers go to airports for rides anyway, but regulators don't take the actions lightly. In January, LA Weekly reported Los Angeles police had issued around 500 tickets to Uber and Lyft drivers for illegal pickups since 2013.
Perhaps with this in mind, in recent months Uber has implemented a virtual geofence at some airports. It requires drivers to wait in a specified area outside airport property in order to receive ride requests from passengers. The policy helps prevent traffic congestion near airports caused by Uber cars swarming around waiting for customers.
Initially, the queue system went by proximity, matching the customer to the nearest driver when they request a ride. But Uber has been slowly updating the system to a first in first out policy, so as soon as a driver enters a specified area near the airport they are placed in a virtual queue.
One Charlotte driver posted a message he received from Uber to a forum for Uber drivers on Reddit about six months ago.
"Effective immediately, airport requests will be issued to you, our partners, on a first-come, first-serve basis. When you enter designated areas (see below) you will be placed into the queue to accept requests for trips from the airport."
At the time, some drivers on the forum welcomed it.
"I hope this is implemented everywhere. At least it'll make it worthwhile to sit around at an airport knowing that you'll get a call eventually as you move up the line," one person wrote.
But six days ago, another Reddit user posted to an Uber forum on the site saying "DC Drivers- New airport "virtual queue" makes it nearly impossible to get an airport pickup."
"This is bullshit policy," another user wrote. "The area is so big for an airport pickup that a friend of mine waited two hours for a Dulles call before he gave up. For a lot of us, it's a great way to get paid to drive into the city and then stay there for the surge. I'm completely frustrated by this."
There are rumors that drivers near the Dulles airport are already finding ways to manipulate the new system, Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of cybersecurity startup JeKuDo said after taking an Uber there recently.
"According to an Uber driver, some drivers are making fake ride requests, then cancelling them in an effort to kick other drivers out of the queue," she told Motherboard.
Uber declined to comment on the allegations that Uber drivers are fixing the system, but said it was put in place for driver and customer satisfaction.
"What makes TNCs unique is that we can use the technology to improve the experience for both drivers and riders, and in this case, drivers are now entered into a virtual queue that allows them to more efficiently connect with riders," an Uber spokesperson said. "We're continuing to work with the airports authority to develop a long-term solution that helps improve operations and ensures travelers have access to safe, reliable rides."