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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.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport will launch a pilot program Thursday that allows companies like Uber and Lyft to pick up arriving passengers.

As GeekWire reported, the Port of Seattle Commission met last week to review the one-year pilot program. 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 (Uber’s black car service was exempt from this rule, as its drivers are licensed to do pickups).

That will change this week. Port of Seattle spokesman Perry Cooper said that “we can’t confirm who’s signed agreements until they get here and are approved,” but Uber sent an email to riders today notifying them that they can hail an uberX ride from the airport with a link that details instructions for how and where (3rd floor ground transportation plaza) to hail a ride.

Via Uber.
Via Uber.

Lyft also confirmed with GeekWire that it will offer rides from Sea-Tac, though it’s been doing so already for the past several months.

“In Seattle, and across the country, people have already welcomed Lyft as their affordable, convenient transportation solution,” Bakari Brock, Lyft’s Senior Director of Business Operations, said in a statement. “Thanks to this agreement, the hundreds of thousands who pass through Sea-Tac every day can rely on Lyft for safe rides to and from the airport.”

Additionally, Uber is offering rides to and from the airport via its carpooling service, UberPool, which is launching in the Seattle region for the first time. The service, already available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and 25 other cities, allows Uber customers to carpool with others who are riding on similar routes.

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.

Via Uber.
Via Uber.

You’ll be able to use UberPool from the airport, as well as to the airport if your pick-up point is in this service area:

Via Uber.
Via Uber.

Uber already offers a similar carpooling service in Seattle called uberHOP, but it’s a bit different in that it requires passengers to meet at designated pickup locations, versus drivers picking up and dropping off at individual stops, like with UberPool. uberHOP is only being tested in Seattle, where there are 12 routes that run Monday through Friday during the morning and evening commutes.

Uber is bullish about its carpooling service, which already accounts for more than half of all Uber trips in several cities. Last year in Portland, former Uber senior vice president and current advisor David Plouffe called UberPool a “trifecta of goodness,” noting how it is cheaper for the rider, reduces congestion on the road, and brings down vehicle emissions. The New York Times just this week penned a story about how UberPool “may push us to re-evaluate how we think about Uber and its impact on the world.”

Lyft is also seeing success with its own carpooling service, Lyft Line, which will launch in the Seattle region, according to a Port staff briefing from last week. Lyft has not revealed exact dates for a Line launch in Seattle, though.

David Plouffe speaks in Seattle last year.
David Plouffe speaks in Seattle last year.

Uber said that UberPool is 25 percent cheaper than an uberX ride in Seattle; however, there will be a $1.25 fee tagged on to every UberPool trip.

Uber is also charging a $5 pick-up fee to arriving Sea-Tac passengers hailing an uberX or UberPool ride — it’s a fee required by the Port. The company, along with others like Lyft and Wingz, also must 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.

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 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.

These environmental requirements are in place because 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. Given the previous restrictions, this occurred each time an Uber or Lyft driver dropped off a passenger at Sea-Tac and could not pick someone else up on the way back.

The pilot program marks 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.

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