Lisa Wieland likes to knock on wood. That’s understandable for someone who runs an organization as complex as the Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees three airports, the Port of Boston, and invaluable real estate in the Seaport District.
Any number of things can go awry at any moment, whether it’s snow that strands thousands of passengers up and down the Eastern seaboard, or something as simple as changing where people catch an Uber or Lyft at Logan.
Wieland, who took the reins in August, was not the Massport honcho who pushed through a controversial decision to centralize ride-hail operations that would force passengers to walk a little farther at the airport. But she did have to implement the program at the end of October.
How’s it going?
“So far,” Wieland tells me as she raps her fist on a wooden conference table in a Massport conference room, “the response has been pretty good.”
Not to say there have been zero complaints — but certainly not the torrent that one would expect after the uproar from ride share customers in the spring, when the Massport board approved new rules to ease congestion.
A smooth rollout of the ride-hail change is Wieland’s first big test as the head of Massport. The 48-year-old Harvard MBA grad has taken a methodical approach, phasing in over seven weeks new rules that require most Uber and Lyft pickups and drop-offs to take place in the central parking garage, instead of curbside.
Ride-hail customers now use dedicated space that’s protected from the elements and have access to a new baggage check-in station at central parking. As part of the rollout, there are signs galore.
“We were careful and deliberate in our planning,” Wieland said in a recent hourlong interview. “Our customers are used to a very small footprint here. We knew that there was a possibility that people would be dissatisfied with it.”
“No matter what the change is,” she added, “change is hard.”
Logan, along with other major airports, is putting in place curbside restrictions to reduce traffic jams. In 2018, there were about 12 million ride-hail trips at Logan; about 5 million of those were without passengers, so-called deadhead trips as drivers circled for new passengers. The latest rules are supposed to reduce deadheading by 30 percent.
Wieland said video of the airport curbsides and roadways — before and after the rules were revised — shows that “there has been a pretty dramatic change.” Anecdotally, airport officials say wait times for rides have been reduced from between 20 and 30 minutes to 5 to 7 minutes.
Still, Wieland realizes these are the early days. The final changes kicked in Monday, when most drop-offs moved to central parking, and a $3.25 surcharge on ride-hail trips was put in place.
Indeed, Uber and Lyft are taking a wait-and-see approach and hope that Logan continues to review its new policy to ensure the best experience for passengers.
While Wieland’s role is new, she is familiar with Massport’s inner workings. After a stint as a consultant at Bain & Co., she joined the authority in 2006, part of a wave of professional managers recruited by then-Massport chief executive Craig Coy. Prior to becoming CEO, she ran the Port of Boston for four years, overseeing huge growth and a dredging project.
Before Coy, Massport was an infamous haven for patronage hires, but that began to change after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011, which involved the two planes that took off from Logan and flew into the Twin Towers in New York. Coy, who also holds a Harvard MBA, thought of the quasi-public port authority as a corporation and ran it like one, bringing in people with with private-sector experience.
Wieland “was smart as hell,” said Coy, who is now the CEO of Prosegur USA, the Herndon, Va., division of the Spanish multinational security company. “She also shared interest in this mixing of public policy and good business management.”
Wieland, however, didn’t set her sights on the top job until the search firm that Massport had hired encouraged her to apply. Tom Glynn, the previous Massport chief, had retired in November 2018, and Massport’s chief financial officer, John Pranckevicius, had been tapped as acting CEO.
Wieland told me she didn’t raise her hand initially because she was happy as port director and wasn’t sure she’d like being the top boss.
“This job is very different. It’s external facing. I honestly had to think about it,” Wieland said. “Do I have a thick enough skin? Is it the right fit for me?”
Then there was the fact that Pranckevicius wanted the job.
“He and I have a great relationship. I respect him immensely,” she said. “I thought he would make a really great CEO, so I wasn’t going to step on that.”
Finally, there was the Glynn factor. “Following Tom Glynn is really hard,” she said.
But then, Wieland said, she began to wonder: “If I could do this job in my own way, could I be successful?”
In the end, she beat out Brian Golden, a Harvard grad who runs the Boston Planning & Development Agency. (Full disclosure: I wrote a column championing Wieland’s selection over Golden’s.) In case you’re wondering, yes, she has talked with Golden since her appointment, and says “we’ve got a great relationship with the city.”
As Massport CEO, Wieland has been making the rounds in business and civic circles. But some folks already know her well, including Dan Kraft, CEO of International Forest Products, an importer-exporter that is part of Kraft Group and is one of the port’s biggest users.
“She’s tremendous to work with,” Kraft said, describing her as a “Jim Collins Level 5 leader,” a reference to the principles espoused in the management guru’s best-selling book “Good to Great.”
A Level 5 leader, Kraft said, is “collaborative, humble and modest,” and the work is “not about her. It’s about the mission. That’s important.”
So what exactly is Massport’s mission?
Ask Wieland, and her business bona fides kick in. It’s about making sure that Logan, sister airports Worcester and Hanscom Field, and the Port of Boston remain economic engines for the Commonwealth.
“I love the role we play in helping the Massachusetts economy,” she said. “We connect people and goods to the global economy.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Logan, which is on pace to handle about 42 million passengers this year, is how to make sure it doesn’t choke on its own growth. Getting around on the ground can be as infuriating as rush hour on the Southeast Expressway.
Logan is in the midst of spending nearly $2 billion on infrastructure upgrades, including a new parking garage and a project to connect the B and C terminals.
Meanwhile, Massport is pushing policies to get more people out of their cars. Beyond restricting ride-hails, Logan has been expanding its network of express buses from Boston and the suburbs.
In the spring, the airport will start operating a bus from North Station and is likely to model it after the one it runs from the Back Bay, which costs only $3 to the airport and is free for passengers going into the city from the airport.
Bus passengers also get a “ticket to skip” the security lines. Ridership on the Back Bay bus has more than doubled, year over year, to nearly 170,000 passengers since Massport cut the fare in May to the current price, Wieland said.
“The more people we can get out of their cars and utilize those services, the less congestion we can have,” she said.
Like the rest of the region, Logan is grappling with the complications of a humming economy. For Wieland, getting ride-hail congestion under control represents just the beginning of a tenure that will probably be marked by a multitude of changes in how we get around.