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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.

Uber and Lyft are moving closer to being able to legally pick up passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The Port of Seattle Commission will meet today to discuss the latest updates to its ground transportation policies, which could very well include new rules for on-demand ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

uberxAs detailed in this staff briefing, the Port will go over three separate recommendations made by a consultant, all of which include creating a one-year pilot program for transportation network companies (TNC) to be a “prearranged option on the third floor of the garage.”

Lyft and uberX (Uber’s cheapest service that uses everyday drivers and their private vehicles) are allowed to drop off passengers at the airport, but can’t pick up riders because of existing taxi regulations that only allow Yellow Cab to pick up arriving travelers. (Uber’s luxury services, UberBlack and UberSUV, use commercially-licensed drivers and are allowed to pick up at Sea-Tac).

However, the Port’s exclusive 5-year contract with Yellow Cab expires this October and the Port is weighing its options: either renew another contract, or create a new open system that would allow for competition.

The arrival of services like Uber and Lyft may effect supply-and-demand for taxis — that’s why the Port is studying how to regulate the TNCs while also determining how to handle the taxi companies as Yellow Cab’s contract expires.

Under its existing 5-year contract, Yellow Cab pays Sea-Tac a $3.67 million minimum annual guarantee or 13 percent of its gross revenues from airport pickups.

You can use UberSELECT to get home from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
As of August, you can use UberSELECT to get home from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

LeighFisher, the consultant hired by the Port, said the Port should ditch its single exclusive contract in two of its three recommendations. Of the 15 airports it analyzed as part of its research, the consultant only found one other (Baltimore) that had an exclusive contract with just one taxi company.

Deciding which taxi contracts to sign and how to incorporate TNC pickups into its ground transportation policies is a big deal for the Port. Last year, there were more than 2.3 million total pick-ups at Sea-Tac, which generated more than $8 million in revenue paid by transportation providers to the Port.

As far as taxi pickups specifically, the Port said that there were 815,000 pickups from the airport in 2014, up 10 percent from the year prior.

LeighFisher found that four airports with TNC policies already in place typically charge Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar between $2.15 to $3.85 per trip. It also noted that San Francisco International Airport expects to generate around $7 million in fees paid by TNC’s, and that “peer airports found mixed impacts of the TNCs on airport taxicab operations.”

Lyft's app delivers this notification when riders try to hail a ride at Sea-Tac.
Lyft’s app delivers this notification when riders try to hail a ride at Sea-Tac.

The Port last met in May to discuss potential TNC laws at the airport. While the Commission agreed that the TNCs should be regulated, its members wanted more time to analyze the implications of a TNC framework and the opportunity for other stakeholders to give input.

“Major areas of consideration with the inclusion of TNCs into the Airport’s [ground transportation] system include access fees, operating areas, vehicle staging areas, activity tracking and reporting, vehicle operator proof of insurance, vehicle standards, and background checks as determined by applicable regulatory agencies, such as King County and/or Washington State Department of Licensing,” Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick wrote in today’s meeting memo.

Port of Seattle staff is expected to make a recommendation to the Commission later this month.

As we reported last month, Uber in the meantime is partnering with fully-licensed for-hire companies in Seattle who are making their drivers available to pick up uberX passengers that call for a ride on Uber’s app. Previously, it was impossible to hail an uberX ride from Sea-Tac due to a geo-fence put in place by Uber.

Uber also rolled out a higher-end service called UberSELECT in Seattle last month, with airport pickups allowed. We’ve reached out to Uber for comment in regard to the new recommendations and will update this post when we hear back. Update: Here’s Uber’s statement:

“Thousands of people land in Seattle every year, and they want a range of different options for the next leg of their journey.  The upcoming discussion is an important first step to enable popular services like Uber and Lyft to serve the airport and the Seattle area.”

Lyft, meanwhile, allows customers to hail a ride from Sea-Tac despite the existing regulations. While its app notes that “SEA Airport Prohibits Pickups,” I was still able to request a ride from the arrivals terminal today. As we detailed in July, this creates problems for drivers, some of whom are being given citations from Port officials.

Here’s a statement from Lyft today:

“We’re encouraged by continued conversations about expanding transportation options at SEA-TAC and appreciate the collaborative efforts of Managing Director Mark Reis and his staff. We’re optimistic that we’ll find a way forward, and that SEA-TAC will join airports across the country who are seeing increased revenues and higher traveler satisfaction after welcoming Lyft to their properties.”

As the New York Times highlighted in May, 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.

If you drop a pin just outside of Sea-Tac on Uber’s app, you’ll notice several available uberX cars.

“Airport staff at all of the peer airports except YVR reported that TNCs are operating in their area, although most are doing so without the airports’ approval,” LeighFisher noted in its report.

A handful of other airports around the country have approved uberX and Lyft pickups, including San Francisco International, Dallas Fort-Worth International, Nashville International, and most recently, Los Angeles International.

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