You can now hail an uberX at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport … kind of.
Prior to today, Uber created a geo-fence around Seattle’s airport on its app to prevent uberX passengers from hailing rides there, as existing taxi regulations prevent “transportation network companies” like Lyft and uberX — Uber’s cheaper offering — from making pick-ups at Sea-Tac.
But now Uber 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 with the geo-fence. Now, though, when you drop a pin at the airport, a notification pops up that reads, “Welcome to Sea-Tac, request when you are ready, and your driver will meet you at the Arrivals level.”
From there, you can designate which door you are at and your “uberX” driver — in this case, someone working for a for-hire company — will show up.
Uber first partnered with Seattle for-hire companies this past October, allowing customers to request a for-hire driver from the Uber app. For-hire vehicles in Seattle differ from taxicabs because they charge a flat fee per trip versus a metered fare.
I just tested out the new option with my location set to the Sea-Tac terminal and there don’t seem to be many “uberX” cars available for pickup at the airport. However, when I moved the slider to “For Hire,” the pickup time shortened by 11 minutes. Rates for the two options are similar.
Uber Black Car and UberSUV, which are more expensive, are allowed to pick up passengers at Sea-Tac because they operate under limousine and chauffeur rules.
Here’s a statement from Uber:
“At this time, Transportation Network Companies are prohibited from serving riders through peer-to-peer service at SEA-TAC — despite the thousands of residents and visitors who are looking for this safe and reliable ride home from the airport each week. In response to this demand, Uber Seattle is testing a partnership with a For-Hire partner at SEA-TAC — which allows Seattleites and visitors to get a ride through the Uber app under the uberX option. Right now, availability is limited and demand is high, so riders can also use UberBLACK, a reliable alternative at SeaTac with a $55 flat rate to downtown.”
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, another taxi service, 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 in June to gather more information from stakeholders for ground transportation at the airport. Five “outreach” meetings were scheduled last month, 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 July. But now the process is not expected to be done until September or later.
Lyft, meanwhile, allows customers to hail a ride from Sea-Tac despite the existing regulations. As we detailed last month, this creates problems for drivers, some of whom are being given citations from Port officials.
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.
A handful of other airports around the country have approved uberX and Lyft pickups, including San Francisco International, Dallas Fort-Worth International, and Nashville International. At Los Angeles International, city officials originally approved the TNCs to do pickups, but the City Council just voted to re-assess that decision.
By the way, today marks Uber’s 4-year anniversary in Seattle.