Taxi drivers have already lost business to Uber and Lyft. Now they too can lose their seat at the Philly airport.

Taxi drivers may soon have to pick up passengers at the airport in a different area, further from the airport gates, as the city plans to swap the taxi zone and the rideshare zone. The Pennsylvania Taxi Workers Alliance is suing the city in an attempt to block the rezoning.

The proposed change would move taxi pick-up from Zone 5, which is directly outside Terminal A’s baggage claim area, to Zone 7, requiring passengers to cross the street bordering the terminal. Taxi drivers say it will take away their visibility, which they say is more important to the taxi business than to Uber or Lyft, because taxis can’t rely on an app to connect with customers.

“If we leave Zone 5 and go somewhere else in the airport, [we’ll be] out of sight, out of mind,” said Abdul Mannan, a driver for the past seven years.

Taxi drivers are also worried that the new location will be a challenge for people with physical disabilities who want to use taxis. The Philadelphia International Airport map tool marks the route from Zone 5 to Zone 7 as accessible.

The traditional taxi business has already been decimated by the rise of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft, as well as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they believe it will take away even more business. Before the pandemic hit, about 1,350 taxis were operating. As of November 2022, they are 564.

“This could be the nail in the coffin” for taxis, Eli Gabay, the lawyer representing the Alliance, said in an interview. “The airport is an aspect of keeping this industry alive.”

The taxi alliance’s lawsuit, filed in mid-January, says the change was announced at a Jan. 16 meeting and claims the change violates Philadelphia’s Charter of Local Rules by misapplying the provisions, as well as the U.S. Constitution, by does not give drivers due process.

An airport spokesman said the city cannot comment on pending litigation.

The city told drivers it was changing the zones because rideshare passengers are currently required to cross the street and could be bumped into a marked crosswalk, the complaint said.

“The proper use of this sidewalk eliminates the danger pointed out by the defendant to carpool passengers,” it said. “Regardless, any similar danger that arises from potential passengers crossing the street is essentially the same for taxis or ride-share passengers.”

“We don’t ask for too much,” said Ahmed Mohsen, a Philadelphia taxi driver for more than a decade, as he waited for a passenger outside the airport Wednesday morning. “People went on dates [from a flight]they just want to run out the door” and get into a car, he said.

Mohsen has his taxi medallion, the certificate that allows taxis to operate legally. Many drivers have one and took out huge loans to finance it. The peak price of a medallion was $545,000 in 2014 and has plummeted to five figures since ride-sharing companies came to town. “It’s a lifetime savings,” he said.

Amadou Diallo has been driving his taxi for about 20 years. Before Uber and Lyft came to Philly, he drove about five jobs a day. Now it’s down to two or three, he said.

Asked why he still drives a taxi despite the challenges, he also noted the cost of the medallion. “I want to own my business,” Diallo added. “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. I love the work.”

Alasan Jallo, a taxi driver who named himself as an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city, said he would have to reevaluate his career if the move to Zone 7 becomes permanent. “Then I will decide what to do next,” he said.

But carpooling is a path he would never pursue, he said. The taxi feels safer, he said. Gabay, the lawyer, also made this note, pointing to the camera in every taxi and the partition between drivers and passengers.

Mannan, the driver who started about seven years ago, has never owned a medallion but rents one for $150 to $175 a week, the price varying throughout the year. He entered the taxi industry at the same time that ride-sharing companies were gaining popularity in Philadelphia. He doesn’t necessarily want them to go away, he said, but he wants a more level playing field.

Before driving, Mannan was a salesman and was laid off many times by different companies.

“I was trying something else where I had control over my schedule [and keep the] ability to provide for my family,” said Mannan, a husband and father of three. “It’s a decent job, it pays the bills, but we’ve got to find a way to keep it going.”

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