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Controversial plan on Uber and Lyft at Logan Airport gets governor’s backing

Passengers waited outside of Terminal A at Logan Airport.
Passengers waited outside of Terminal A at Logan Airport. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/2017)

Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday endorsed the Massachusetts Port Authority’s controversial plan to ban Uber and Lyft from terminal curbs at Logan Airport, a day before the agency’s governing board is expected to vote on the measure.

The proposal, which has drawn blowback from the ride-hailing companies and many of their riders, would direct all airport pickups and drop-offs to the airport’s central parking garage, while also raising the fees on pickups and imposing new fees on drop-offs.

Officials say the initiative would cut down on traffic congestion, not just at the airport but also on the surrounding roads in East Boston — a point Baker emphasized Wednesday in discussing the plan for so-called transportation network companies, or TNCs.

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“The reason they’re pursuing that is they did a study that showed that a significant number of TNCs come empty into the airport and leave with somebody, and a really significant number of TNCs come into the airport with somebody in them and then leave empty,” Baker said. “And what they’re trying to do here is connect the people who are leaving the airport [with] the people who are coming to the airport, and strategically I think that’s probably a good idea.”

Massport officials unveiled the plan in a March presentation to the agency’s board, arguing that action was necessary to curtail the traffic haunting East Boston. Baker appointed six of the seven board members, including his transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, who has pushed for the Uber-Lyft proposal and worked with Massport staff on the plan.

Increasing pickup fees from $3.25 to $5 and imposing a new $5 fee for drop-offs would help pay to prepare the parking garage for the new loading and drop-off zone and cover lost revenue from the elimination of some parking spaces. It would also help cover reduced fares on the Logan Express bus service to encourage more airport passengers to arrive by mass transit.

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Board members at the March meeting indicated they may consider reducing the size of the fees.

The proposal would give riders a discount on the fees if they share trips with other passengers, using UberPool or Lyft’s similar carpool service. Riders with disabilities who use ride-hailing firms through programs like the MBTA’s Ride service would still be dropped off at the curb.

But the plan would force most riders of a booming mode of travel to walk upwards of five minutes to reach the terminal, infuriating some passengers.

“Making Uber drop you off at central parking is a disaster,” said Paul English, the founder of the travel service Kayak, who said he regularly takes ride-hailing trips to his flights. “It would make us a laughingstock” and a “backwater.”

According to Uber, some 10,000 riders have signed a petition urging Massport to abandon the plan. Lyft has also rallied riders to complain. And in a public securities filing earlier this month, Uber noted that airport service is a big part of its business, describing initiatives such as Massport’s as a threat to its business.

The companies have argued that Massport is taking too drastic an approach; Uber, for example, says it could use its technology to quickly find new fares for drivers at Logan to cut down on empty vehicles circling in East Boston and the airport roads, without sending riders and drivers to a consolidated drop-off area. Massport, however, says its roadways are not laid out to easily facilitate those connections.

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Uber has also noted that taxis would not be subject to the same rules, while Massport says that taxis make up a small portion of traffic at Logan compared with Uber and Lyft, which now account for about 30 percent of trips.

Lyft, meanwhile, called for Massport to consider charging higher fees for curbside drop-offs but lower fees for the central parking lot, to give riders an incentive to use the central lot but still provide a choice. The same rules should apply to taxis and limos, Lyft said.

“We’ve repeatedly attempted to find better solutions at Logan than the misguided approach Massport has proposed,” Lyft spokeswoman Campbell Matthews said. “However, Massport has been unwilling to listen.”

John Nucci, a member of Massport’s board, said Wednesday that he is undeterred from voting for the centralized ride-hailing plan, arguing it isn’t just about the airport but also the surrounding neighborhood.

“I understand the concern about the inconvenience of passengers having to go to the central garage from the terminal. That’s about a six- or seven-minute inconvenience,” Nucci said. “I’m frankly more concerned about the hour, hour-and-a-half commute through the tunnel because of traffic coming from the airport. . . . I think there’s going to have to be a little bit of sacrifice on everybody’s part.”

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Uber on Wednesday said it was still negotiating with Massport ahead of Thursday’s board meeting.


Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.