You can now legally take an uberX or Lyft ride home after arriving at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — if you can find the pick-up area, that is.
The airport started a one-year pilot program late last week that allows companies like Uber and Lyft to pick up arriving passengers. Since launching in Seattle three years ago, Uber and Lyft were able to drop off folks at the airport. However, due to the Port of Seattle’s exclusive contract with Yellow Cab, the companies weren’t able to pick up riders who just arrived from out of town (Uber’s black car service was exempt from this rule, as its drivers are licensed to do pickups).
Those rules changed last week, and after arriving at Sea-Tac from a recent trip to New Orleans, I wanted to check out how the pick-up process worked. In a nutshell, my experience was smooth and cost me just $21.75 (more on this later) to get to downtown Seattle. But airport officials need to do a better job of guiding passengers to the pick-up area.
After landing, I headed toward baggage claim. Having reported on this subject, I knew the pick-up area was staged on the third floor of the parking garage. But for anyone else arriving at the airport trying to find their Uber or Lyft driver, this is difficult to locate because there are no signs pointing people to the pickup area until you exit the terminal and enter the third floor of the parking garage.
From the terminal, I followed the signs for “ground transportation,” which took me to the fourth floor of the parking garage. There were still no signs for Uber/Lyft yet, but I took the escalator to the third floor where “courtesy vehicles” and “limos, taxis” were stationed, according to signs.
This is where I saw the first “TNC/Rideshare” sign, which had an arrow pointing me in the right direction.
This is also a possible area of confusion — I’d guess that many passengers have no clue what “TNC” means, let alone “transportation network companies.” Also, while it’s become popular to call Uber and Lyft “ride-share,” that’s technically not the correct term.
So, how about more simply, “Uber/Lyft/Wingz”?
Once you arrive on the third floor of the parking garage, there are plenty of signs pointing you to the “TNC/Rideshare” area. You’ll certainly pass by several taxicabs on your way over.
While Sea-Tac needs to add a few more signs in the terminal area, the apps meanwhile do a pretty good job of telling you where to go.
When you open Uber’s app at the airport, it gives you these directions: “uberX/POOL picks up across skybridges in the parking garage, 3rd floor – section i. UberBLACK/SUV/SELECT pick up curbside at arrivals.”
Lyft, meanwhile, tells you to “head to the parking garage” and “follow the ground transportation signs,” while indicating that the “3rd floor garage” is where you should be.
Both Uber and Lyft had a representative at the pickup area helping passengers who were confused or needed help getting a ride.
Once you hail a ride in the app, your driver will head over from a nearby staging area about a mile away. My driver arrived within seven minutes and I had no trouble finding him. He told me he had been in the staging area with several other drivers for nearly one hour, waiting for a customer — this waiting period for drivers will likely decrease if more passengers hail rides after arriving at Sea-Tac.
So why was my ride $21.75? That’s nearly half of the typical uberX rate from the airport to downtown Seattle.
The discount was made possible by Uber’s carpooling service, UberPool, which is launching in the Seattle region for the first time. Uber is rolling out UberPool exclusively for rides to and from the airport.
After selecting an UberPool ride, Uber finds another user — or users — heading in the same direction, and puts you all together in one vehicle. Your fellow riders will either be in the vehicle when you are picked up, or will join you along your route. The idea is to reduce the cost of a ride for each user, and increase efficiency for drivers.
One nice thing about UberPool is that it locks in a fare before you actually enter the vehicle — for me, riding from Sea-Tac to just north of downtown Seattle, it was $21.75.
Uber never found another UberPool rider(s) to join me, but regardless, I still got the discount, which was nice. This price may vary — I just checked this morning, and the estimated cost was around $26.
Aside from the lack of signage, my first experience hailing an uberX ride at Sea-Tac was smooth. It’s an easier process than having to move your location pin away from the airport, call a driver, and have him or her come to the terminal — a hack used by many folks at Sea-Tac and other airports around the country.
Update: I should note that my preferred method of transportation back home from Sea-Tac is to pay $3 for a Light Rail ride to Seattle, then take an Uber or Lyft to my final destination. Takes a bit longer, but much cheaper. Though for visiting travelers, those with lots of luggage, or people on a time-crunch, Uber/Lyft provide another alternative to taxis.