Under Uber, Lyft pressure, Massport scales back anti-congestion plan
Lowers ride-hailing fees; allows significant curb access
IN THE FACE of strong opposition from Uber and Lyft, the Massport board scaled back its anti-congestion plan at Logan International Airport on Thursday by reducing the proposed fee hike on ride-hailing trips and allowing drop-offs at the curb for a large number of passengers.
The board lowered the proposed fee for ride-hailing pickups and drop-offs from $5 to $3.25 while Massport staff decided to back away from their original plan to handle all pickups and drop-offs in the central parking garage. Instead, Massport decided to allow Uber and Lyft drivers to drop off passengers at the terminal curb on the arrival level from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m., when 40 percent of flights, most of them departures, occur.
The revised plan calls for all Uber and Lyft airport pickups to occur in the central parking garage; drop-offs will also happen there from 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. Using the arrival level of the airport for morning drop-offs should help reduce congestion since that level sees little traffic in the mornings.
The changes represented a major victory for Uber and Lyft, which over the past week had implored their customers to sign petitions and send emails to Massport and other government officials calling for the plan to be revised. Their chief concerns were that a $5 ride-hailing fee and centralized pickups and drop-offs away from the terminal curbs would hit their customers with higher costs for poorer service.
The unanimous vote by the Massport board came after lawmakers representing areas near the airport and transportation advocates testified in support of the original plan. It also came after Gov. Charlie Baker said he supported the Massport plan without mentioning the need for changes. Baker’s secretary of transportation, Stephanie Pollack, serves on the Massport board.
John Nucci, a member of the Massport board, said he was disappointed with the compromise proposal. “The original plan was strong,” he said, noting that it required all pickups and drop-offs to take place in the central parking garage where drivers dropping off passengers could quickly pickup passengers leaving the airport. The goal of the Massport initiative is to cut vehicle trips to and from the airport by 3 million and curb so-called deadhead trips – where Uber and Lyft drivers come to or leave the airport without any passengers – by 30 percent.
With its compromise plan, Nucci said, Massport is essentially hoping that Uber and Lyft drivers will drop off passengers at the curb in the morning and then move into the central garage to pick up another passenger rather than heading back to Boston or somewhere else to get another ride.
“It will be strictly voluntary on their part,” Nucci said. “I’m not sure that’s a good business approach.”
Pollack said Nucci may be right, but she wanted to give Uber and Lyft a chance to prove that they can eliminate deadhead trips and convince passengers to share vehicles, another way of reducing trips to and from the airport. The Massport plan cuts the ride-hailing fee to $1.50 for passengers who share a ride.
“Let’s call their bluff,” Pollack said, winning support for a proposal to monitor the impact of the compromise plan on a monthly basis and then revisit it six months after implementation begins on October 1. She warned that curbside drop-offs would be eliminated if Uber and Lyft failed to reach targets for shared rides and fewer deadhead trips.
“That’s what matters to our neighbors. That’s what matters to congestion,” said Pollack.
Lewis Evangelidis, the chairman of the board, agreed with the need to keep a close eye on the anti-congestion plan’s progress even as he worried about the impact on airline passengers. But he said action was needed. “This isn’t something we can’t do. This is something we have to do,” he said.
The Massport anti-congestion plan is a response to a huge increase in the use of ride-hailing apps to get to and from the airport. Officials said ride-hailing trips made 12 million trips to or from the airport last year with 5 million of them deadhead trips. In the first quarter of this year, ride-hailing volume increased nearly 30 percent over last year.
The new fees on the ride-hailing apps (the current fee is $3.25 for pickups only) were designed to raise money to finance the reconfiguration of the central parking garage for Uber and Lyft pickups and drop-offs and to pay for expanded Logan Express bus service to the airport. Using the lower level of the garage for ride-hailing pickups and dropoffs will cost Massport about 1,000 parking spaces.
The other major aspects of the Massport anti-congestion plan starts May 1, with Massport offering more direct bus service between Back Bay and the airport and making trips from the airport to Back Bay free. Massport is also planning to develop similar service from North Station. Silver Line service from the airport to South Station is already provided for free.
Before Thursday’s vote, three lawmakers and a number of transportation advocates testified in support of the original plan. Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston praised Massport for tackling the congestion problem pro-actively.“This is unique because historically things have been reactive,” he said. “This is the type of pro-active leadership we need.”
Madaro and the other lawmakers left before Massport unveiled and voted on its compromise plan.