Should the state follow Massport’s lead?
Many are pushing an increase in ride-hailing fees
MASSPORT OFFICIALS on Thursday proposed a hefty increase in fees on Uber and Lyft as part of a broader response to congestion at Logan International Airport, and the question now for state policymakers is whether they should follow suit.
Airport officials say the ride-hailing apps are starting to overrun the airport, and the limited available public data suggest the same is happening in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and a handful of other communities.
Ride-hailing apps provided 64.8 million trips in Massachusetts in 2017, with more than two-thirds of those rides originating in Boston and Cambridge, according to statistics released last year by the state Department of Public Utilities.
Joel Bavvera, Massport’s director of strategy and business policy, predicted the statewide trip tally for 2018 – which is expected to be released in a couple months – will be much higher, possibly as high as 120 million. That would be an 85 percent increase.
A debate has sprung up in recent weeks, spurred by some members of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, about the need for a number of new transportation funding initiatives, including an increase in fees on ride-hailing apps. The current fee assessed by the state is 20 cents per ride, of which half goes to the municipality where the ride originates, a quarter for initiatives to support the taxi industry, and a quarter to a state transportation fund.
Members of the Legislature have indicated a willingness to consider raising fees on ride-hailing apps, while the Baker administration has steered clear of the idea. State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who serves on the Massport board, indicated on Thursday that the call at Logan to increase ride-hailing fees was much easier than doing so statewide.
“For the airport, the data clearly demonstrate that there is both a traffic and congestion problem and that the transportation network companies [her term for ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft] seem to be overtaking transit and high occupancy vehicle mode choices,” she said. “There’s been a commitment at Massport for many years to maximize the number of people who get here by transit and high occupancy vehicles so it’s inconsistent with that. For the broader debate, we’re going to need to do the same kind of data analysis. The important thing that Massport did was it looked at the transportation network companies in the broader context of people’s options to get to and from the airport. They did a great job, but that’s relatively easy to do when you’re looking at one major trip generator like the airport. It’s much more complicated when you look at TNC use more broadly.”
Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, an organization that has done research on the ride-hailing apps, acknowledged the lack of publicly available data on the operations of the companies.
He said he liked the Massport approach, because it focused on eliminating dead-head trips, incentivizing passengers to share vehicles, and expanding Logan’s bus feeder system to get more people out of their cars and into buses.Draisen said his organization is backing Beacon Hill legislation that would increase ride-hailing fees and he said at least a portion of the money should be used to address congestion in the communities where it’s the worst – Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and a handful of other municipalities.
Draisen also said the debate over ride-hailing fees is symptomatic of the disruption taking place in transportation “New technology is dramatically transforming transportation and public agencies are generally slow to respond,” he said. But he said Massport is definitely trying to play catchup with its plan. “It’s a very aggressive set of proposals,” he said.