March 22, 2019

Massport weighs Uber, Lyft changes to curb congestion

Flickr/David Wilson
Logan International Airport, as seen from above.

Massachusetts Port Authority officials are weighing a plan that would significantly change the flow of rideshare vehicles to and from Logan International Airport and would implement higher fees on the services, a combination of moves they say will reduce congestion and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal, discussed at Thursday's Board of Directors meeting and detailed in a press release, would funnel all trips on rides-for-hire apps such as Uber and Lyft into the ground floor of the airport's central garage for both inbound and outbound trips.

Currently, transportation network company, or TNC, vehicles can drop passengers off at the curb in front of terminals and pick up new rides in a shared parking lot. However, Massport officials say moving everything into one location would improve the flow of traffic, cut down on empty-car trips, and make it easier for drivers to find their next customers after completing a ride.

The plan, which is not yet final, sets a goal of reducing empty TNC vehicles at the airport, referred to as "deadheads," by 30 percent. State data indicate that 5 million of the 12 million rideshare trips to and from Logan in 2018 carried no passengers.

Massport's proposal also suggests increasing the fee assessed on TNC rides picking up at the airport. The press release did not detail a specific figure, but media reports from Thursday's board meeting indicated the fees would increase from $3.25 to $5 for single riders or $2.50 for shared rides and that similar costs would apply for both arrivals and departures.

The authority is also considering changes to double ridership of the Logan Express bus service. In May, the stop near Copley Square will move directly across Back Bay Station to provide better access to trains, and next year, curbside service will be available outside North Station.

Officials said the changes would help reduce congestion around the airport, which continues to see steady growth in usage as airlines expand.

"This transportation strategy is aimed at improving the customer experience, reducing empty vehicles clogging our roadways, reducing greenhouse gases, and making HOV options more attractive for our customers," Massport acting CEO John Pranckevicius said in the press release. "The growing congestion at Logan is significantly impacting our passengers and our surrounding communities. The bottom line is we need more people to get to and from the airport in fewer vehicles, and we think we can do that with these new strategies. This plan is better for our customers, better for the community and better for the environment."

Massport officials said they are still "in discussion" with TNC companies, but Uber expressed concern about higher fees and how the new central location would work. The company said if all rides operated through the garage, Logan would become the only airport in the country that does not allow rideshares to drop customers off curbside.

"We want to work with Massport on a compromise to address their concerns around planned construction and congestion, but the current proposal would result in customers paying more and getting less," Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield said in a statement. "Under the proposal, customer fees on rideshare trips to and from the airport would increase by more than 200 percent (and) the customer experience would get worse all while doing little to reduce congestion."

Lyft spokeswoman Campbell Matthews said in a statement that the company is "hopeful that we can reach shared goals of ensuring that the rideshare experience at Boston Logan can be affordable and hassle-free."

New restrictions on TNCs have become a common suggestion in recent weeks. The MBTA's oversight board said as it was voting on new fare increases last week that state leaders should consider leaning more on Uber and Lyft, and leadership in the Legislature has indicated such an idea is on the table.

Chris Dempsey, director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, praised Massport's plan as an important way to address traffic concerns in East Boston.

"East Boston is ground zero for our state's transportation crisis, and the high volume of TNC trips in and out of Logan is a major factor in regional congestion," he said in a statement. "We applaud Massport's efforts to provide riders with incentives to use the most efficient transportation options, like public transit or carpooling, that will help reduce our worst-in-the-nation gridlock."

Massport's Board of Directors plans to vote on the ground transportation plan at its April 25 meeting.

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