Logan inching toward agreement with Uber, Lyft

Change in Massport regs could be death knell for cabs

Massport is quietly trying to fashion new regulations to open up Logan Airport to all ride-hailing drivers but, six months after passage of a state law paving the way for transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate, the sides are still unable to reach an agreement.

A Massport spokeswoman said the bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker last summer was the first step, with background checks being the second in a three-step process to reach an agreement at Logan. She indicated talks are progressing on reaching consensus with Uber, Lyft, and other app-based services on final regulations governing ride-hailing service at the airport.

“There is a three step process in which the state MOU and the start of the background checks were necessary first steps,” Jennifer Mehigan, assistant director of media relations, said in an email. “Massport is now working to finalize our agreements with the [transportation network companies].”

A spokeswoman for Uber declined to comment on details of the talks but acknowledged discussions are ongoing.

“Over the last several months we’ve been in active conversations with Massport about finding a path forward to improve affordable, reliable transportation options at Boston Logan Airport,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

Currently, only Boston taxi companies and vehicles with livery plates whose owners paid a fee to Massport can pick up passengers at the airport, a restriction that many say hurts the city when travelers from out-of-town expect to be able to call for a ride-hailing service upon landing.

While the law that was passed makes an oblique reference to Massport and Logan, officials are being guided by a little-seen conference report that was issued in hammering out the differences between the House and the Senate. The language of the report, which is not included in the statute, instructs Massport to come up with regulations to allow the services to operate at New England’s largest commercial airport.

Massport “may not permit a transportation network vehicle that is not registered as a livery vehicle to accept a prearranged ride through a digital network at the General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport terminal until such time as the authority promulgates rules for the operation of transportation network vehicles,” the report says.

Matthew Brelis, Massport’s director of communications, declined to discuss anything to do with potential changes in regulations but acknowledged changes are coming.

“We know our customers want [transportation network companies] and we’re working to provide that access,” he said.

Once new regulations are in place, however, it is certain to be one more, if not the final, nail in the coffin for Boston cabbies and that, say some observers, may be the hold up.

“The airport is the only business that Boston taxi drivers and small medallion owners now have left,” said Donna Blythe-Shaw, a former spokeswoman for the now-defunct Boston Taxi Drivers Association.

Blythe-Shaw, who retired last year but remains an advocate for the disintegrating taxi industry, says the system in place at Logan that has been operating for decades will be hard for officials to revamp. Right now, only cabs can pick up at curbside and dispatchers at the airport will often contact the central taxi radio dispatch to call for 100 or more cabs when a packed plane or several flights are expected to arrive. Blythe-Shaw argues that will be impossible with the apps, making for longer waits for passengers.

She also said with most cabbies losing business in the city, they often sit over at the airport waiting for fares and can end up making about $6 an hour if the rides are short and the wait is long.

Because only livery vehicles can operate under Massport’s regulations, Lyft does not offer pick-up service at Logan and only Uber’s high-end Black and SUV service can pick up passengers, though they can get those rides at the low UberX price. UberX drivers are prohibited from picking up at Logan because of a “geofence” that is supposed to prevent them from seeing or responding to requests.

Because only those with livery vehicles can operate at Logan, the availability of ride-hailing service is severely reduced and the wait longer. Transportation network companies say lifting the restrictions opens the doors for thousands more drivers to be at the ready to pick up passengers at much lower costs than cabs.

Sometimes, though, the system does not work as intended. An employee of MassINC, the publisher of CommonWealth, arrived at Logan during the holiday week from out-of-state and, using his smartphone, hailed an UberX. While he expected a livery vehicle, he said a regular private car with passenger plates picked him up in the livery area outside the terminal and brought him into the city. The driver, he said, indicated all he does is pick up passengers at Logan.

A CommonWealth intern was dispatched to Logan and instructed to hail an UberX. He was picked up by an Uber driver with livery plates but was charged the lower UberX price. The driver told the intern he did not believe any changes were coming to alter who could pick up passengers.

Brelis, the Massport communications director, said he can’t explain why a regular UberX driver responded, saying it’s Uber’s responsibility to operate the program and ensure its performance, but added the agency is always monitoring the app.

“Our folks test it on a regular basis,” he said.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Michael Malpiede contributed to this report