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Sea-Tac airport may allow Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to start picking up passengers if new rules are passed.
Sea-Tac airport may allow Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to start picking up passengers if new rules are passed, but for now, they’re not allowed. (Image via Shutterstock)
Nick Starr
Nick Starr

Lyft driver Nick Starr was waiting for a ride request on Monday when he received a notification from a passenger needing a pick-up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Starr made his way to the terminal, found his customer, helped put luggage in the trunk, and began to drive away.

That’s when Starr says an airport official stopped his vehicle and asked him if he was working for uberX or Lyft. Starr confirmed he was a Lyft driver. The official took down Starr’s license plate number, noting that he was also going to send him a citation.

This situation could change, with Port of Seattle considering new rules. But for now, existing taxi regulations prevent services like Lyft and uberX — Uber’s cheaper offering — from making pick-ups at Sea-Tac. Uber created a geo-fence around the airport on its app to prevent uberX passengers from hailing rides there, but Lyft still lets customers call a driver from the terminal.

You can request a Lyft ride from Sea-Tac, even though it’s not allowed by the airport.

This creates a problem for drivers like Starr, who said he was “sort of aware that there might be restrictions against picking up at Sea-Tac, but have never read anything official on the matter.”

Starr explained that if he does not accept a ride from a passenger — including ones at Sea-Tac — his “acceptance percentage” will drop. That number is included in weekly summaries for Lyft drivers and Starr called it “daunting” because drivers will get kicked off the platform if the percentage is too low.

“I fear picking up anyone from there anymore — so much so that I turn off my Lyft app anytime I’m anywhere near Sea-Tac,” Starr said. “If I did get another ping there I’d feel obligated to accept it, otherwise my percentage will go down. But I fear the $1,000 fine and citation as well. It sucks that Lyft is putting drivers in this situation if the law or Sea-Tac policy or whatever says that they aren’t allowed there.”

Starr, who also drives for Uber, said he contacted Lyft after being stopped by the Sea-Tac official. The company had Starr describe what happened and asked him to email photos of the citation.

“They said to send any information I receive at all about this and to document everything,” Starr said. “They mentioned their lawyers dealing with the citation, but didn’t say anything concrete.”

Uber, meanwhile, does not passengers to hail an uberX at Sea-Tac.
The uberX option disappears when passengers try to hail a ride from Sea-Tac.

When we contacted Lyft about passengers hailing rides from Sea-Tac last month despite the regulations, the company said “we’re working collaboratively with airport staff and are confident we will find a way forward that preserve’s Lyft‘s safe, affordable rides for Sea-Tac visitors.”

We followed up with Lyft today on this latest development and will update this post if we hear back. [Update: Here’s a statement from Lyft: “We’ve been in contact with the driver who received the citation and are continuing conversations with airport staff toward a permitting agreement.”]

Services like uberX and Lyft — otherwise known as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs — are allowed to drop off passengers at Sea-Tac, but due to the airport’s exclusive agreement with Seattle Yellow Cab, they cannot do pickups.

However, as we reported in June, officials may soon allow uberX and Lyft to pick up passengers. An exclusive 5-year contract with Yellow Cab expires this October and before taking request-for-proposals on a new contract — either from Yellow Cab or other for-hire transportation companies — the Port wants to see how TNC pick-ups will affect demand and supply.

The Port Commission asked for a 90-day review last month to gather more information from stakeholders for ground transportation at the airport. Five “outreach” meetings are scheduled for July, while the Port of Seattle hired a consulting firm to examine best practices for airport ground transportation.

Originally, officials said a decision could come as soon as this month. But now the process is not expected to be done until September or later.

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