SF airport ride-hailing experiment called ‘hot mess’

Massport confident its own plan for Uber, Lyft will work

SAN FRANCISCO International Airport launched a centralized pickup location for ride-hailing apps last month, and news reports are calling it a “hot mess” during evening hours.

Officials at Logan International Airport in Boston are keeping a close eye on what’s happening in San Francisco because they are preparing for their own experiment – the consolidation of all ride-hailing pickups and a large percentage of drop-offs in the first floor of the central parking garage starting in October.

Both airports are struggling to reduce congestion around the terminals. San Francisco tried a number of measures to divert Uber and Lyft pickups away from the curb, but those only succeeded in reducing curbside pickups by about 21 percent. (The goal was 45 percent.) So on June 3 all pickups were moved to the top of the hourly parking garage.

After some initial confusion, the new system has worked well during the day, but at night – between 8 and 11 p.m. – and particularly on Sunday nights, Uber and Lyft drivers have had trouble making it through airport traffic and up the ramp to the rooftop pickup point during peak travel periods. Uber said wait times went from 8 ½ minutes on Sunday nights prior to the change to 20 to 25 minutes after the change. Ride cancellations rose from 8 percent to roughly 30 percent.

“Looks like @fly SFO took an already poor Uber/Lyft pickup process and made it worse,” one passenger tweeted.

Officials at Massport, which runs Logan, say they are paying close attention to what’s going on in San Francisco as well as several other airports around the country that are trying similar experiments. “We’ve integrated lessons learned,” said Dan Gallagher, Massport’s director of aviation business and finance.

Massport approved its anti-congestion plan in April, consolidating all pickups and those drop-offs occurring between 10 a.m. and 4 a.m. in the central parking garage, which is roughly a 10 to 15 minute walk from all terminals. Curbside drop-offs for the ride-hailing apps will continue to be allowed mornings from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m., but only at the arrival level. Roughly 40 percent of Logan’s flights, most of them departures, occur during that early morning period. (Taxis are not affected by any of the proposed changes.)

Uber and Lyft customers currently pay $3.25 for pickups, but the new plan calls for them to pay $3.25 for drop-offs, too. The extra money will be used to finance free buses to the airport from Back Bay and North Station.

Massport says it plans to recreate a curbside experience for ride-hailing passengers inside the garage, with the ability to check baggage. Uber and Lyft drivers dropping off arriving passengers inside the garage will also be able to travel a short distance and pick up passengers waiting to leave the airport, an attempt to cut down on cars circling through the terminal area.

Uber and Lyft drivers will have their own lane coming into the garage at Logan so they won’t have to contend with other vehicles pulling into the facility. That lane and other alterations to the garage are currently under construction.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Uber and Lyft fought Massport’s initial anti-congestion proposal, and succeeded in scaling back the fee from $5 to $3.25 and securing morning drop-offs at the terminal curbs. Gallagher said Massport has been working closely with Uber and Lyft on the changes and both companies are now comfortable with the design.

“They were not happy with losing the curb,” he said. “We need to add more curb and this is a way to add curb.”