Uber and Lyft may be forced from the curb at Logan Airport. But not taxis
The Massachusetts Port Authority’s proposal to ban Uber and Lyft from the front of terminals at Logan International Airport is aimed at cutting down on congestion both at the airport and the busy roads around it — a worthwhile reason to mildly inconvenience passengers, officials say.
The same rules, however, would not apply to the taxi industry, whose beleaguered drivers see it as an opportunity to regain some of the business they lost to their upstart competitors.
“It’s going to be beneficial to us,” Isoni Isoni, a 25-year taxi driver, said recently as he waited for his next fare.
With taxis having direct access to terminals while Uber and Lyft would be forced to use the central parking garage, business “might improve a little bit,” Isoni added. “Most taxi drivers agree.”
Uber has protested Massport’s plan to consolidate all ride-hail pickups and drop-offs at a central location and raise the fees on trips to and from the airport. Uber has asserted that it should play by the same rules as cabs — an ironic argument, perhaps, from a company that long claimed it shouldn’t be held to the same regulations as taxis.
In a statement, Uber said it supported “Massport’s goal of reducing congestion, but that means encouraging people to use mass transit or share rides — not just switch the kind of the car they’re taking.” Massport, for its part, has proposed lower fees on shared ride-hail trips and is planning to expand its Logan Express transit service while lowering fares.
Lyft, meanwhile, said taxis should be required to pay higher airport fees if they’re allowed curbside access.
In online forums, ride-hail drivers have openly questioned whether Massport is instituting the rules as a favor to the taxi industry, which has been decimated by ride-hailing both at the airport and on city streets.
Massport officials say they did not consult the taxi industry before drafting the new rules. Acting chief executive John Pranckevicius said Uber and Lyft require different rules than taxis simply because they operate at such different scales. Taxis are responsible for about 5 percent of trips at Logan, compared to about 30 percent for ride-hail services.
“Before Uber and Lyft a couple years ago were approved to [serve Logan], I don’t remember having this level of congestion in the tunnels and at the airport. From my perspective, they’re the cause of this problem,” Pranckevicius said. “I don’t buy this parity argument. Passengers take different modes to the airport. Our responsibility is to try and manage the airport.”
Massport spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan added that Logan does not have enough space in the planned central parking area for both ride-hail and taxi cars.
Massport’s oversight board is expected to vote on the plan later in April.
Currently, taxis and ride-hail drivers operate similarly at Logan. After dropping off passengers at the terminal, drivers must go to a designated waiting lot until they are eventually dispatched for passenger pickups. For pickups, passengers generally head to open-air lots near the terminals for Uber and Lyft, while taxis are available at the curb.
Taxi drivers say they can spend an hour or more in the waiting lot before getting a fare, far longer than before Uber and Lyft entered Logan.
Massport says many Uber drivers leave the campus without a passenger and head downtown, where they believe they can score a quicker fare. The agency estimates that 5 million of 12 million ride-hail trips on its property in 2018 were without a passenger — contributing to a mammoth spike in traffic through the East Boston harbor tunnels.
The new pickup and drop-off area is meant to solve this problem by easily allowing drivers to quickly get a new fare right after dropping one off.
Massport does not track how many taxi drivers similarly leave the airport empty-handed, but industry representatives say the number is small.
“They killed our business in the city,” said Gary Lavitman, a taxi driver who formerly ran a dispatch service. “So we’re going to stay up here, because we might not get something in the city.”
Lavitman said that Uber and Lyft drivers may also benefit from the new rules by getting new fares more quickly.
Other taxi drivers are skeptical that Massport will even approve the plan.
While Mustapha Chakar called the Massport proposal “a blessing from God,” he doesn’t expect it to happen. In his seven years driving a cab, he’s grown accustomed to Uber and Lyft getting their way.
“We’re going to learn if Massport can make a decision for themselves, or if they make a decision from money,” Chakar said, referencing Uber and Lyft’s lobbying efforts.
Andrew Hebert, who once ran a taxi trade publication, said the government owes cabbies a favor after allowing Uber and Lyft to flourish for years, at first without any regulations and later with different rules than those faced by taxis.
He added that taxis allow riders who don’t have smartphones or only use cash to still get a ride.
“I understand that the so-called rideshare industry is there and it’s not going away. I just feel that the way the transition was done was not done in a fair or equitable manner,” Hebert said. “It’s incumbent on regulatory authorities to make sure people in the taxi industry can make a living.”