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Sea-Tac airport may allow Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to start picking up passengers if new rules are passed.
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It took nearly a year of deliberation and deal-making, but the Port of Seattle appears ready for transportation companies like Uber and Lyft to pick up arriving passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The Port Commission will meet today and review a one-year pilot program that is set to begin on March 31, according to this staff briefing.

Photo via uberX.
Photo via uberX.

Since launching in Seattle three years ago, Uber and Lyft were able to drop off passengers at the airport. However, due to the Port’s exclusive contract with Yellow Cab, the companies weren’t able to pick up riders who just arrived from out of town.

That should change next week, given that the Commission approves the pilot program. Uber, Lyft, and Wingz — a flat-rate “taxi alternative” that only does airport trips — will be able to pick up passengers at the 3rd floor ground transportation plaza. Drivers will be required to wait in a nearby “staging” area parking lot before accepting a hail; Uber, Lyft, and Wingz must use geo-fencing technology to enforce this rule.

The companies will also need to pay a $5 fee to the Port for each pick-up and are required to pay a one-time activation fee that depends on the number of pick-ups per month — $10,000 for fewer than 1,000, up to $100,000 for more than 10,000. For now, the fee is based on average monthly drop-offs from Sept. 1 of last year to Feb. 29; after six months of the pilot program, it will be re-calculated based on pick-ups.

A screenshot from this past December. Lyft allows pickups at Sea-Tac, despite existing regulations prohibiting the company from doing so.

The Port is also imposing strict environmental requirements on the companies, which, as part of the pilot program, must either operate a green vehicle-only airport fleet — with each vehicle meeting 47 MPG or higher — or implement a “Environmental Key Performance Indicator” (E-KPI) standard that will be monitored by the Port on a quarterly basis.

The Port, which will have access to a bevy of data from each company related to individual vehicles making trips to and from the airport, will set a E-KPI threshold that is also required of taxis: a fleet-weighted average of 45 MPG and 7 percent deadheading reduction.

Essentially, the Port wants the companies using fuel-efficient vehicles and wants to reduce deadheading, which happens when a driver drops someone off at the airport but returns back to Seattle without another passenger.

If the companies do not meet the E-KPI after six months, their $5 per trip fee will increase to $10 for the following quarter, and will increase by another $5 if the standard is not met again in three months.

The Port plans to utilize its ground transportation employees to oversee the pilot program on a day-to-day basis, conducting and documenting “random periodic observations.”

One side note: The staff briefing indicates that Lyft will launch its Lyft Line carpool service in Seattle, but it’s unclear when. We’ve followed up with Lyft for more details.

seatacairport11Speaking of Lyft, the company has allowed riders to hail a ride from the terminal for the past several months, despite the existing laws prohibiting pickups. Uber, which has gone so far as to hire outside taxi services to pick up users who request rides at the airport, has built a geo-fence around the airport on its app to prevent uberX passengers from hailing rides there (Uber Black and SUV are permitted to pick up).

If implemented next week, the pilot program would mark a milestone for what’s been a long back-and-forth between Port officials and the transportation companies. The Port, which met in MaySeptember, and December to discuss this topic, previously hinted that the program would begin this past summer, but delayed any final decision.

There several airports in cities like San Francisco, Portland, and San Diego that have already established regulations to allow for TNC pick-ups. In January, Uber and Lyft were approved to pick up passengers at Los Angeles International Airport.

The Port is also working on a new exclusive contract with either Yellow Cab or another taxi company. The previous deal with Yellow Cab, which required the company to pay a minimum of $3.67 million per year or 13 percent of its annual gross revenues from airport pick-ups to the Port, expired in October and the Port is signing month-to-month agreements with Yellow Cab in the meantime. On a related note, the Port in January said that Yellow Cab reported “inaccurate and incomplete” receipts for trips originating from the airport for the past four years.

Update: Here’s a statement from Lyft:

We’ve had productive discussions with the Port Staff and Commissioners and appreciate their collaborative efforts with the most recently proposed plan, which is beneficial for both the airport and consumers. We look forward to continuing to work together with Sea-Tac so it can join over 35 other airports across the country which have crafted proposals encouraging innovative transportation solutions like Lyft and welcoming consumer choice.

Update No. 2: The Port Commission expressed a few concerns with the pilot program during Tuesday’s meeting. Commissioners worried about ensuring that the companies are properly monitored and tracked, and brought up smaller issues like the lack of bathrooms around the 3rd floor pickup area and lack of signage in the terminals.

Overall, though, all signs point to the program starting on March 31 once the companies sign the agreement.

“What we’re doing is truly new, innovative, and creative,” said Sea-Tac Managing Director Lance Lyttle, who dealt with a similar issue while working at the Houston airport.

We’ll keep you updated on the latest from Uber and Lyft in regard to the agreement.

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