Business & Tech

Uber to end Providence airport pick-ups in dispute over fee

Uber Technologies will stop offering rides from T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island starting May 1.
Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News
Uber Technologies will stop offering rides from T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island starting May 1.

Uber Technologies will stop offering rides from T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island starting May 1, in protest of a $6 fee levied by airport officials on drivers for all airport pickups.

“We are disappointed to announce that, effective May 1, you will no longer be able to request an Uber at T.F. Green Airport,” Uber is expected to tell its Rhode Island riders in an e-mail soon.

At least for now, Rhode Island riders will still be able to take Uber trips to the Providence-area airport, but will not be able to get picked up as they leave their flights.

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These fees are generally passed on to passengers at airports across the country. At T.F. Green, drivers are required to pick up riders in a short-term parking lot. The company has pressed airport officials for months to lower the fee, which increased from $3 to $6 last summer.

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“For nearly a year, Uber has tried to work with the airport in order to come to a reasonable agreement that ensures that Rhode Island residents and visitors can get an affordable ride at the airport, but unfortunately, the airport has been unwilling to do so,” Uber spokeswoman Alix Anfang said.

But the Rhode Island Airport Corp., which runs T.F. Green, said Uber had “employed heavy-handed negotiating tactics.” Spokesman Bill Fischer did not offer further details on those tactics, but added in a statement: “We will not be bullied by Uber.”

Fischer also threatened that Uber would eventually be unable to drop off riders because of the decision, but declined to further elaborate.

Uber has a rich history of sharply contesting government regulations; perhaps most famously, the company used digital maneuvers in its app to deliberately circumvent law enforcement officials in certain markets.

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The company has sought to be more friendly with government officials since last year, when controversial founder Travis Kalanick was replaced as chief executive. But the Rhode Island decision recalls the days when the company threatened to leave markets, usually directing riders to pressure politicians to change the rules.

“It’s been a while since they played hardball by pulling out of a city or an airport or anything like that. The trend has been Uber settling with more cities and agreeing on fees,” said Harry Campbell, an industry analyst who blogs as The Ride Share Guy. But, he said, “Uber is always apprehensive when other people are in control of their rates or their marketplace.”

Uber says the T.F. Green pickup fee is the highest in the country. Logan Airport, by contrast, has a fee of $3.25.

Some airports charge drivers both to pick up and to drop off riders, which can result in a higher overall fee when drivers access and then leave the airport. For example, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, pickups and drop-offs each cost $5.

Fischer stressed that Uber was solely responsible for the decision to leave, and said the company is welcome to return to the airport at any time.

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But he indicated the airport has no plans to lower the pickup fee, which has helped increase revenue lost from other airport sources.

“We are mandated by federal law to be self-sustaining and must generate revenue to support the operations of the airport,” he said. “Because of the popularity of transportation network companies, we have incurred losses of revenue in other traditional revenue generating areas like long-term parking and rental cars.”

T.F. Green officials did not provide data on what percentage of airport passengers leave the airport in ride-hailing vehicles.

But the airport has been celebrating growth in recent years. In 2017, the airport counted nearly 4 million passengers, up 7.8 percent from the previous year. And in February 2018, the airport served nearly 25 percent more passengers than the same month last year.

Uber’s biggest rival, Lyft, also offers service at T.F. Green. While Lyft also objects to the fee, it does not plan to leave T.F. Green, said Campbell Matthews, a Lyft spokeswoman.

“While we feel that the current fees imposed at [T.F. Green] are too high, we are committed to working collaboratively with the airport to find a solution,” she said.

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.