The Port of Seattle wants to let companies like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar pick up passengers at the airport, but its leadership needs a bit more time to develop new regulations.
The Port Commission met today to discuss recent negotiations it has had with the ride-hailing startups — also known as “transportation network companies,” or TNCs — who want to pick up customers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
As GeekWire reported this morning, the TNCs can already drop off passengers at the airport but cannot do pickups because of existing taxi regulations that only allow Yellow Cab to offer a ride to arriving travelers.
However, with Yellow Cab’s exclusive 5-year contract set to expire in October, the Port is preparing to accept RFPs for a new contract. Yet now with TNCs regulated and gaining popularity in both Seattle and Washington, it also wants to create a regulatory framework for the TNCs and charge them fees for conducting business on airport grounds.
A memo from today’s meeting penned by Mark Reis, Managing Director for the Port’s Aviation Division, indicated that the Port “anticipates” TNC pick-ups to start in June or July of this year.
However, while the Commission agreed that the TNCs should be regulated, its members want more time to analyze the implications of a TNC framework and the opportunity for other stakeholders to give input. No timelines were set to establish new TNC rules, so for now it is still illegal for Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar to pick up passengers at the airport.
At the meeting, Reis explained why the TNCs should be regulated at the airport, particularly since drivers use unmarked vehicles that look like any other car.
“The transaction looks the same as a child picking up his or her parent at the curb, so we can’t really regulate them very readily,” he noted. “We’d have to watch every single person getting in and out of a car and hope to understand whether it was a TNC transaction or a friend picking up someone.”
With this challenge in mind, Reis said that the Port should create a new rules for the TNCs so it can properly regulate them and also earn revenue from the companies to compensate the airport for business.
Regulation would also allow the airport to analyze TNC data as far as how often and at what times they pick up passengers, Reis said.
“We will understand how much activity is really happening,” he said. “That is information we think is really important for all parties to be aware of as they think about future opportunities at the airport.”
Several representatives from the taxi and for-hire industry also offered input during Tuesday’s meeting and many shared concern with the 1-year exclusive contract extension for Yellow Cab. Others voiced frustration with the Port allowing TNCs to pick up passengers, but not other cab companies. The scene was certainly reminiscent of Seattle City Hall last year, when lawmakers spent months figuring out how to regulate TNCs.
As the New York Times highlighted on Monday, Uber and other competitors are trying to ink deals with airports across the country to allow pickups. The Times reported how some TNC drivers park in a nearby lot or hide their company decals to avoid detection while picking up passengers at airports with existing regulations.
This past October, Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar all gained approval from officials to operate at San Francisco International Airport.
Here’s a statement from Uber on today’s Port of Seattle meeting (Uber’s luxury services, UberBlack and UberSUV, use commercially-licensed drivers and are allowed to pick up at Sea-Tac):
“It’s encouraging that SEA-TAC is working to find solutions that will allow Seattleites and travelers get safe, reliable rides through ridesharing. We know that while riders can currently use UberBLACK to request a pick-up at the airport, there are still thousands of riders whose requests to get an uberX go unanswered each week. In coordination with SEA-TAC, we look forward to better serving Puget Sound residents and visitors, and as well as offering more economic opportunities to our partner drivers at the airport.”
Update: Here’s a statement from Seattle Yellow Cab spokesman Bob Cassinelli:
If they, Uber, Lyft & Sidecar, match our insurance and green vehicle requirements and have a designated pick up pick location comparable to ours, we would welcome them as competitors at SeaTac Airport.