Your Uber and Lyft ride at Logan Airport may soon change
Those Lyft and Uber rides to and from Logan may be getting more expensive — and they probably won’t be dropping you off in front of the terminal anymore.
The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan Airport, on Thursday unveiled details of its plan to rein in the thousands of Uber and Lyft rides clogging its terminals and narrow roads, and a fee increase that would make its ride-hailing charge among the highest of any airport in the country.
“We have to do something,” said Edward Freni, the agency’s director of aviation, expressing exasperation about the daily traffic jams at the terminals and in East Boston.
Under Massport’s proposal, the pickup fee for ride-hail trips would increase from $3.25 to $5, and riders would also pay the same fee to be dropped off at the airport. However, in a bid to encourage carpooling and reduce traffic, Massport would charge only $2.50 to riders who agree to split their Uber or Lyft with other travelers, while encouraging more riders to take shuttle buses to Logan from downtown Boston.
Perhaps the biggest change would be to how riders get to the terminals. Today, travelers heading to Logan are dropped off right outside their terminals, while those leaving Logan are directed to dedicated pickup spots in adjacent parking lots to meet their drivers. Massport’s plan, which it has been considering for months, is to instead direct both pickups and drop-offs to the airport’s central parking garage, with an exception for riders with disabilities, who would still get curbside service.
The locations would require a walk of several minutes or so between the terminals and the garage through elevated passageways.
Officials said they are fine-tuning the idea in discussions with the ride-hail companies before submitting the changes to the Massport board for final approval. Already, the Massport board chairman, Lewis Evangelidis, has expressed concerns that the proposed new fees are too high; agency officials said they will help offset the revenue lost by the elimination of some 1,000 parking spaces for the new Uber-Lyft areas.
Some riders who have come to rely on using Uber and Lyft for Logan were unhappy. John Carter, a doctoral student at Boston College, said he would prefer to take public transit to Logan, but the MBTA ride from his Cleveland Circle apartment takes more than an hour.
“But instead of making the public transit option better, they want to make my main alternative, ride-hailing services, worse,” Carter said.
And Uber on Thursday said it was displeased with the current proposal, and warned that the technology to pair drivers and riders would not work inside the central garage. The company also criticized Massport for not making similar changes to the rules for taxis, which long had dominion over Logan until the agency allowed Uber and Lyft pickups in 2017.
“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. “Under the proposal, customer fees on ride-share trips to and from the airport would increase by more than 200 percent, the customer experience would get worse, all while doing little to reduce congestion.”
If approved by Massport, the new pickup and drop-off locations would be located in two sections of the central parking structure, one for passengers of terminals A and E, the other for terminals B and C.
One Massport director, Laura Sen, warned agency officials to be realistic about how riders will react to a designated drop-off area that is several minutes further away.
“Nobody wants to schlep back to central parking,” she said.
But officials say the centralized loading area would clear considerable space and reduce chaos outside the terminals because ride-hail trips account for about 40 percent of curbside traffic during peak hours. It would also make it easier for Uber and Lyft drivers who have just dropped off a passenger to get a new fare right away and leave with another passenger in tow.
That would cut down on a common practice: ride-hail drivers dropping off customers at the terminal, then driving around, either outside the airport or elsewhere in Boston, with an otherwise empty car, contributing to the crippling gridlock in East Boston and other parts of Boston.
East Boston, in particular, has struggled with huge backups that have spilled into city streets, Officials blame a confluence of factors: growth at Logan, the advent of ride-hailing, and a population surge in East Boston, leading to a stunning 47 percent increase in traffic volume between 2013 and 2018.
East Boston state Representative Adrian Madaro said the ride-hail proposals at Logan are “an important piece of the overall equation,” but called for further improvements to public transportation to get more cars off the road.
“Logan is looking at what they can do and acknowledging that their operations are contributing to congestion, not just in East Boston but more broadly,” he said.
Massport said it will also use the increased fees to improve another airport transit option: the Logan Express bus service.
Massport would launch new buses between Logan and North Station, with free trips from the airport and $3 fares out to the airport. The agency would also cut fares to $3 on Logan Express buses from Back Bay, which currently cost $7.50. And the airport would test a policy where Logan Express riders receive expedited security screening in the terminal.
Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who is a member of Massport’s board, acknowledged some riders may find the garage drop-offs inconvenient, but argued it would still be faster than sitting in traffic inching toward the terminal. And riders getting picked up will now have shelter from poor weather, which is not the case at the existing outdoor pickup lots.
“We think this is a net benefit, even to” Uber and Lyft customers, she said.
The plans at Logan come as activists and some public officials push for an increase to the current fee of 20 cents a ride the state imposes on Uber and Lyft to help fund transit and encourage more people to take the MBTA.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, for example, has pitched a staggered system similar to the one proposed for Logan, with higher fees for solo travelers and lower prices for riders who use Uber Pool or other carpooling options.
Governor Charlie Baker has said he does not see a need to boost the statewide fee, although Pollack, his transportation secretary, did not appear to be against the higher rate Massport is considering.