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Uber pushes back against Logan drop-off proposal

Uber Technologies is pushing back at a plan to ban ride-hailing vehicles from terminal curbs at Logan International Airport, saying it can use technology to accomplish the same goal of reducing traffic congestion.
Uber Technologies is pushing back at a plan to ban ride-hailing vehicles from terminal curbs at Logan International Airport, saying it can use technology to accomplish the same goal of reducing traffic congestion.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/File 2019)

Uber Technologies is pushing back at a plan to ban ride-hailing vehicles from terminal curbs at Logan International Airport, saying it can use technology to accomplish the same goal of reducing traffic congestion without forcing passengers to walk from a central pickup and drop-off location.

The San Francisco company has made a counteroffer of sorts to the Massachusetts Port Authority’s plan to dramatically change ride-hail operations at the airport, which would require all pickups and drop-offs to occur at the airport’s central parking garage.

Airport officials want to reduce congestion outside the terminals and the approach roads into them. Moreover, consolidating Uber and Lyft pickups and drop-offs in one place, officials said, will cut down on the number of ride-hailing drivers who leave Logan with an empty car because they don’t want to wait for a new fare. Massport said there were about 5 million of these empty rides in 2018 — adding to congestion along Route 1A, the Sumner Tunnel, and East Boston.

A central location, officials have argued, would better ensure drivers leave the airport with a passenger.

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But in a presentation it distributed Thursday, Uber said Massport could accomplish the same goal without making all drivers — and passengers — go to the central garage; the matching function of its technology can ensure that drivers dropping off a rider at a terminal will quickly be assigned a new pickup so they don’t leave the airport empty.

“From our perspective, rather than go down the path of an expensive, likely inconvenient . . . experiment, we should at least try some of these things we’re suggesting that don’t require any investment and have been proven to work at airports around the world,” said Josh Gold, an Uber public policy manager. “And if it doesn’t work, let’s go back to the drawing board and try something else. But why skip the step?”

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Massport rejected Uber’s suggestion, saying it would still have too many drivers cluttering up the approach roads as they shuttle between the terminals and existing pickup lots.

“If it worked, it would have been implemented two years ago,” Massport acting chief executive John Pranckevicius said.

Uber disagreed, saying its proposal would work if Massport created new areas where ride-hail drivers pick up riders, and if it dispatched the drivers to riders based on their locations. Pranckevicius said Massport and Uber will continue to discuss the idea before the proposal goes before its directors in late April.

Lyft, meanwhile, said it would soon propose its own plan for managing pickups and drop-offs at Logan.

On one other Massport proposal, the company did make one significant concession. Massport wants the pickup fee Logan passengers pay, now $3.25, to increase to $5, and impose a similar one for drop-offs; Uber countered that it would support a new drop-off fee, $3.25. The company said taxis and limos should pay the same fees as ride-hailing companies.

Massport also wants a discount from the $5 for riders who use Uber and Lyft carpool functions; Uber said passengers who share rides should not pay any fee.

Massport directors are expected to vote on the proposal at a meeting later in April. Under a 2016 state law, the agency has the authority to implement its own ride-hail rules and fees.


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

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