Massport: New Uber/Lyft drop-offs will speed Logan travel

Central pick-up opening Monday

THE MASSACHUSETTS PORT AUTHORITY staged a dry run on Wednesday to demonstrate how a centralized location for Uber and Lyft pickups and drop-offs will work at Logan International Airport.

With the ambitious play to reduce airport congestion set to start phasing in on Monday, Massport conducted a mock drop-off and pickup in the newly renovated first floor of the central parking garage. All went smoothly, but of course there was none of the confusion that typically coincides with throngs of passengers racing to catch flights or eager to head home.

The rollout will start slowly. On Monday passengers flying into terminals A and C – home to Delta, JetBlue and Cape Air, among others –  who are looking to take Ubers or Lyfts to their final destination in the Boston area will need to walk to the central parking garage and catch their ride.

Then in December, those catching Uber or Lyft rides to Logan anytime from mid-morning to well past midnight will be dropped off in the new centralized garage areas. From 4 a.m. to 10 a.m., which can be a busy time for flying, travelers headed for terminals A, B or E will be dropped off curbside in the arrivals area – one level down from the stretch of roadway where taxis and private cars drop people off at the airline departure level. At Terminal C, where a roadway project will prevent that type of curbside service, Uber and Lyft passengers will be dropped off in the central garage at all hours of the day starting Dec. 9.

The new garage space attempts to mimic the amenities and convenience of arriving at the curb. Once drop-offs begin, staff from the airline service company Bags will be on hand to relieve people of their checked-luggage before they make their way up the elevator, through an enclosed skyway and into the terminal where they will be able to check-in and go through security.

The grand plan for moving most ride-hailing vehicles from the curb to the central garage area is one element in a larger strategy intended to clear cars off the jammed roadways.

Massport officials expressed confidence that the changes will ultimately result in faster, more efficient and convenient trips for everyone using Logan, but there will be some growing pains between now and then. ­

“Over the next three-to-five years, we have a lot of projects going on and we ask for people to be patient as we do build a better airport, but we think at the end of the day this will provide a much better passenger experience,” said Lisa Wieland, the CEO of Massport. “We are 24/7 operation. So it’s really hard to do these construction activities when there’s nothing going on at the airport, so there will be a little bit of pain.”

Massport CEO Lisa Wieland looked on as officials discussed the plan for reforming ride-hailing at Logan Airport. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

On Wednesday workers throughout the two buildings that make up the central garage were busy painting floors and readying it for its new use.

While the changes will mean a slightly longer walk for everyone disembarking from a flight and heading to catch an app-ordered ride, the whole way there will be shielded from the elements and the new ride-hailing spot for Terminal A looked much fresher than some of the existing spaces where Uber and Lyft drivers pick up their fares alongside taxis.

The taxis are staying put, meaning they will remain closer to the actual gates, but Dan Gallagher, director of aviation business and finance, said that’s not because Massport is trying to prop up the industry, which has been economically battered by the advent of ride-hailing apps.

Uber and Lyft account for 40 percent of the volume of traffic at Logan during peak periods, which is 10 times as much traffic as taxis, according to Gallagher, who said the central parking structure doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate both ride-hailing and taxis. The areas for limos will also stay where they are, closer to the curb.

“It is not picking winners or losers. It’s pure volume. Forty percent of that traffic is Uber and Lyft. You have to move that segment of traffic,” said Gallagher.

There were 12 million ride-hailing trips at Logan last year, and Gallagher anticipates there will be more than 14 million by the end of this year. The overall goal of Massport’s transportation reforms is to take 1.5 million cars off the roads around the East Boston airport even while doing brisk business handling flights from around the globe.

The Silver Line – which is free to use departing from the airport – the free shuttle from the Blue Line station, and the steeply discounted or free Logan Express bus all share the same roads around the terminals as the taxis, Ubers, and private cars.

The centralized location should also make it easier for Uber and Lyft drivers to drop someone off at the airport and then pick another person up, rather than driving off without any passengers – a practice called deadheading that compounds traffic problems. The physical change in the loading and unloading space was done in conjunction with a new fee structure that charges ride-hailing passengers $3.25 for getting dropped off or picked up, or $1.50 for those sharing a ride.

Massport will receive data from Uber and Lyft, and the success of the program will be gauged based on the reduction in deadhead trips, the new wait times, ride-hailing cancellation rates, and the amount of shared rides.

Gallagher said the fees aren’t intended to steer people away from the popular car services, but are instead aimed at covering the cost of the accommodating them. The price tag for the project was pegged at $15 million to $20 million on a Massport website, and Gallagher said the new garage areas will be staffed with extra people to help direct drivers and passengers.

The overhaul also resulted in 900 fewer parking spaces in the central garage, although a parking expansion project at the international terminal is in the works. Each terminal will receive its own area for Uber and Lyft vehicles with brightly painted markings on the floor of the massive central garages. For domestic travel aboard Alaska, American Airlines, Delta, Jet Blue, Spirit, Southwest and United, the new locations will also have a spot where travelers can check their baggage, which will then be delivered to the terminal by a secure van.

The new protocol will be rolled out over the next couple months, which Massport officials hope will give passengers and drivers time to adjust.

While there will be ample signage, advertisements, and a forthcoming text alert system, it might be tricky for some to keep track of how exactly the new system is phasing in. The first step will be made Monday when people getting picked up from terminals A or C will be directed to the new centralized locations. One week later, on Nov. 4, people leaving from terminals B and E will do the same.

For those getting dropped off at Logan, the schedule is a little more varied. By Dec. 9, the plan is for all ride-hailing drop-offs at Terminal C to operate at the garage. Starting that day at the other three terminals in the 19 hours between 10 a.m. and 4 a.m., drop-offs will also be made the garage. But at those terminals – A, B and E – in the morning hours between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m., ride-hailing drop-offs will be made curbside at the lower level, which is below where taxis, and friends and family are dropping people off. Dec. 9 is also the day that the new $3.25 fee for Uber and Lyft drop offs will go into effect.

Although Embarque has a permit to conduct ride-hailing services in Massachusetts and Via has a limited permit, only Uber and Lyft have agreements to facilitate trips to Logan.