Massport approves Logan curbside ban for Uber, Lyft
The Massachusetts Port Authority on Thursday approved a plan that will dramatically reshape how thousands of travelers will get to and from Logan Airport, banning Uber and Lyft rides from the curbside outside terminals during much of the day.
However, after stiff opposition from the ride-hailing companies and their passengers, the agency made last-minute adjustments that will still allow Uber and Lyft drivers to make curbside dropoffs between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m., although at the arrivals area of terminals, which have less traffic in the mornings. The agency also reduced some of the proposed fee increases that were in the original proposal.
The new rules — which go into effect in October — will make Logan the first airport in the United States to redirect ride-hail traffic away from terminals and to a central zone, said Dan Gallagher, Massport director of aviation business and finance. San Francisco does allow passengers the choice of paying a higher fee for curbside dropoff or less for a consolidated area.
Bruce Schaller, a New York consultant who studies ride-hailing’s impact on traffic, said he would expect other airports to follow Logan’s lead.
“I think airports have been overwhelmed with an influx of these vehicles and they’re slowly working out how to respond,” he said. “So in the bigger picture, it’s a step toward rationally integrating ride-hail into the transportation fabric.”
“And there will be resistance every step of the way,” he added.
Under the Logan plan, all Uber and Lyft rides after 10 a.m. will be required to end or start at designated areas in the central parking garages — requiring passengers to walk up to a quarter-mile depending on the terminal. The central location will have baggage check-in, wheelchair attendants, and moving walkways to the terminals.
Massport board members described the revised proposal as a compromise between passenger convenience and the broader goal of reducing traffic congestion on Logan roads and in nearby East Boston.
“This isn’t something we really want to do. This is something we have to do. And that’s our responsibility,” said Massport chairman Lewis Evangelidis. “This is a compromise plan.”
Another board member warned the agency could move all Lyft and Uber rides to central parking if the compromise plan doesn’t reduce traffic enough.
Even scaled back, the Massport plan marks the most significant change to ride-hailing policy in Massachusetts since the Legislature first brought the companies under state regulation in 2016.
Those rules were largely focused on passenger safety and background checks and did little to consider the traffic consequences of unleashing thousands of Uber and Lyft cars on Boston area roads; the law, though, did allow Massport to set its own rules for the services.
Massport’s changes did little to placate Uber and Lyft, which complained that different drop-off rules for different times of day will create confusion, and had argued that taxis and limos should be subject to the same rules.
“Today Massport approved an untested concept that will cost the airport millions of dollars, likely lead to mass confusion, and result in ride-share passengers paying more and getting less,” said Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield.
Meanwhile, one constituency that had strongly supported the original plan was unhappy about Massport’s concessions — lawmakers from East Boston.
The neighborhood has seen a massive influx of traffic in recent years, some of which is caused by Uber and Lyft drivers leaving the airport without passengers — so-called “deadhead trips.” The original plan, to move all pickups and drop-offs to the parking garage, was meant to make it easier for drivers to pick up a fare right after ending one, better ensuring that they leave with a rider in tow.
“I’m very disappointed in the Massport board’s decision to water down this proposal,” said state Representative Adrian Madaro of East Boston. “It won’t do enough to reduce the number of deadhead trips coming into East Boston. . . . Those trips are unnecessarily congesting East Boston roads, resulting in an erosion of quality of life for my constituents.”
Massport officials said they still think the number of empty trips will be reduced, because drivers dropping off at the terminal in the morning will have easy access to central parking to find new fares.
John Nucci, a Massport director from East Boston, was the only board member to express disappointment with the adjustments.
“Unfortunately, we managed to land on a plan that makes nobody happy,” he said. “I felt that we should have approved the plan as originally proposed.”
But Chris Dempsey, director of the group Transportation for Massachusetts, said that even the compromise version is a “step in the right direction.”
“It’s definitely progress versus the status quo, which is just entirely untenable,” he said.
Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who is a Massport board member, said officials may still revisit the plan in the future and move all drop-offs to the garage if the empty trips aren’t reduced.
“Let’s see if they can do it, and if they don’t, then we shut off the curb,” she said.
Riders with disabilities who use Uber and Lyft through programs such as the MBTA’s Ride service would still be allowed curbside service at all hours.
Massport is also planning a task force to consider how to improve transport for people with disabilities.
Uber and Lyft did praise Massport for trimming back the proposed fees, keeping the pickup fee at $3.25, adding a $3.25 drop-off fee, and lowering those to $1.50 for passengers to share rides using carpooling options.
Pollack said Massport may consider boosting those fees if necessary to encourage a “behavioral change” toward more shared trips.
Massport is also planning to expand its Logan Express bus service, adding service from North Station, while lowering fares for riders.