Massport proposes major response to congestion at Logan
Big hike in Uber, Lyft fees, centralized pickups/drop-offs, Logan Express expansion
TO REDUCE CONGESTION at Logan International Airport, officials at Massport are proposing much higher fees and new dropoff and pickup procedures for Uber and Lyft passengers as well as a series of new policies to double ridership on Logan Express buses from downtown and suburban locations to 4 million passengers a year.
At a meeting of the Massport board on Thursday, agency officials said the use of ride-hailing apps to come and go from the airport is exploding. They said Uber and Lyft vehicles made 12 million trips to and from the airport last year, and 5 million of those trips were so-called dead-head trips where the vehicles carried no passengers. In the first two months of this year, officials said, Uber and Lyft traffic continued to increase, rising 27 percent over the previous year.
Massport officials said their data indicate a good portion of the riders using Uber and Lyft are deserting public transportation, including the port authority’s own Logan Express buses. The officials said 40 percent of the vehicles at the airport during morning and afternoon peak periods are now operated by Uber and Lyft drivers, who have outgrown their current pickup and dropoff zones at individual terminals and are starting to backup on to airport roadways.
To deal with the growing congestion, Massport officials proposed moving all Uber and Lyft pickup and dropoff locations to the central parking garage where drivers dropping someone off will be encouraged to immediately pick up a passenger leaving the airport. The new approach is expected to eliminate some of the dead-head trips, as many as 1.5 million. Officials from the ride-hailing industry say, if the centralized dropoff and pickup location is approved, Logan would be the only airport in the nation that doesn’t allow Uber and Lyft to drop off at or close to the terminal curb.
To incentivize passengers to share Ubers or Lyfts, the $5 Massport fee would drop to $2.50 for those sharing a ride.
The centralized location for pickups and drop-offs will take all of the first level of the central parking garage, eliminating 1,000 parking spaces. The newly cleared space will be used for ride-hailing apps only. Taxis, which have seen their business at Logan drop significantly, will continue to drop off and pick up passengers at the terminals.
Massport officials said the new location for Uber and Lyft pickups and drop-offs will mean a longer walk for passengers to get to their terminal, but they said that inconvenience will be partially offset by the fact that they will be sheltered for the entire walk. (Currently, some of the pickup and dropoff lots are refashioned, uncovered parking lots.) The garage dropoff and pickup area will also have all the amenities currently available at the terminals, including wheelchair and skycap services.
Laura Sen, a member of the Massport board, said the centralized location for Uber and Lyft pickups and drop-offs may discourage people from using the ride-hailing apps. “Nobody wants to schlep back to central parking,” she said, noting that she typically takes an Uber to the airport and a taxi back
Sam Sleiman, director of capital programs at Massport, said the new approach should lessen congestion overall at the airport and may even speed up travel times for people using Uber and Lyft. “The passenger will spend less time overall getting to the terminal,” he said.
Uber and Lyft issued statements saying they would continue to negotiate with Massport about various elements of the proposal, suggesting it wasn’t to their liking. Harry Hartfield, a spokesman for Uber, said the company wanted to work with Massport but also wanted to make clear that the proposal as drafted would require his firm’s customers to pay more for less. “Under the proposal, customer fees on rideshare trips to and from the airport would increase by more than 200 percent, the customer experience would get worse, all while doing little to reduce congestion,” he said.
Uber also said the proposal to “rematch” a driver dropping off a passenger at Logan with a passenger looking to leave Logan may be difficult to pull off inside a garage, where cell phone service may be spotty.
Massport’s other major initiative is aimed at eliminating another 1.5 million vehicle trips to and from the airport by shifting more passengers to Logan Express, which shuttles passengers by bus to the airport from locations in Boston’s Back Bay, Braintree, Framingham, Woburn, and Peabody.
The current fee for service between Back Bay and Logan is $7.50. Massport officials are proposing to reduce the fee for rides to the airport to $3.50 and making the ride from the airport to Back Bay free. They are also considering opening another pickup and dropoff location at North Station with a similar fee structure.
If the are changes are approved, there will be free fare options for passengers leaving the airport on the Logan Express buses to Back Bay and North Station as well as the current free service on Silver Line buses to South Station, where full access to the MBTA system is available.
Massport officials said they are exploring other Logan Express incentives as well, including the ability to check baggage at the parking area and priority access to Transportation Security Administration security lines.
Officials are also considering expanding parking at the crowded Braintree and Framingham, expanding service to three times an hour at peak times at Braintree. They also said they intend to explore new suburban locations for Logan Express pickup points.
Officials said the new fees for using Uber and Lyft to reach the airport should bring in an additional $26 million a year, which will be used to offset the $38 million cost of Massport’s other proposals. Part of that $38 million is the loss of all the spaces on the first level of the central parking garage, which will reduce revenues by an estimated $4 million a year.The Massport board is expected to vote on the congestion strategy at its meeting next month. Most board members seemed to favor the proposal, but chairman Lewis Evangelides, the sheriff of Worcester County, said he was worried about raising fees on customers. Members of the board asked staff to crunch numbers with a lower increase. They also wanted to compare the Massport proposed fee hike to more airports.