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New ride company ZIRO shut down at Sonoma County airport over suspended permit

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A new ride-hailing company that sought to make its first splash at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport during the Thanksgiving holiday has instead been prohibited from operating following revelations its state permit had been suspended.

ZIRO, a San Francisco-based ride-hailing service that seeks to compete in the same field as Uber and Lyft, received its permit to operate June 7, but failed to file a required quarterly report with the California Public Utilities Commission, which suspended the company’s permit Nov. 15.

Maria Nacario, a partnership executive with ZIRO, said the company’s permit would be reinstated within a week, and said company officials didn’t believe they had to file the July-September report because service didn’t begin in the state until October. Nacario said the company sent the report Thursday.

Sonoma County Airport sealed an operating agreement with ZIRO and sent out a news release Monday touting the deal.

Airport officials at that time were not aware of the license suspension, said Airport Manager Jon Stout, who defended the airport’s handling of the situation. He said staff checked a couple of weeks ago, but did not check the permit status again before greenlighting the operating agreement and sending out the news release.

Tipped off about the permit suspension on Wednesday, The Press Democrat raised questions with the company and the airport that day. Stout said the airport prohibited ZIRO from operating that day, meaning the company was out of service at the airport on Thanksgiving.

Until the company gets the OK from the CPUC, it will not be allowed to operate at the airport, Stout said.

“We look forward to them clearing this up and getting back to operation,” Stout said in a phone interview Friday.

CPUC officials have not returned multiple calls seeking information on the nature of the permit suspension.

ZIRO, like its rivals in the ride-hailing sector, is regulated by the CPUC and is required to apply for a specific permit. The initial cost is $1,000, and ZIRO’s application, assuming the company maintains good standing, should be good until June 7, 2022, according to documents available via the CPUC website.

Such companies are required to maintain robust insurance coverage, operate a driver training program and maintain a zero tolerance policy for drug use.

Companies are also required to conduct criminal background checks, including checks of the national sex offender database, according to CPUC documents.

ZIRO (pronounced ZY-roh) has touted its commitment to the environment, promising to remain carbon neutral by buying credits to offset emissions. Officials also promise the company will be cheaper than competitors thanks to ad revenue on in-car screens offsetting costs.

Uber, the nation’s largest ride-hailing company, began operating at Sonoma County Airport in May.

It joined Lyft, also of San Francisco and the country’s second-largest ride service, which has offered service out of the airport for 3½  years.

Taxicabs continue to provide service at the airport, where passenger numbers are expected to hit 480,000 this year, an all-time high.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twittter @tylersilvy.

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