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Frustration, confusion, then acceptance for Logan’s new Uber drop-off system

Chris Umans and his three year-old son Elliot walked to their rideshare at the Uber & Lyft pickup at Logan Airport.
Chris Umans and his three year-old son Elliot walked to their rideshare at the Uber & Lyft pickup at Logan Airport.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

There was one last obstacle before Marc Sylvain of Everett could check in for his flight to Florida for Christmas: the long walk from the new Uber and Lyft drop-off area to Terminal E at Logan International Airport.

The journey involved lugging his bags from the bottom floor of the airport’s central garage, where most ride-hail trips now begin and end, into an elevator, through the long pedestrian walkway that links the garage to the terminal, and down an escalator before finally checking in for his flight.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “I’d rather just get dropped off outside” at the curb.

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But his tone shifted as he neared the terminal with plenty of time to spare: “It’s not that bad,” he conceded.

The controversial new Logan drop-off rules, the first of their kind in the nation, were approved in April and went fully into effect about two weeks ago — just in time for the holiday travel season. The sequence of frustration, confusion, and acceptance seems to be a common reception for the policy, which consolidated pickups and drop-offs in the airport’s central garage.

The policy was phased in, with pickups — which used to occur at satellite lots off each terminal — moving to the central garage in October. The bigger change came on Dec. 9, when drop-offs that used to take place at the curb were also moved. Curbside drop-offs are still allowed between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m., because there are few incoming flights during those hours, officials say.

Other airports, including in Los Angeles, have begun to centralize ride-hail pickups in one location, but Logan is still the only one to require drop-offs away from the terminal.

Ann Iturra and Jeremy Reineck huddled over a cell phone as they tried to navigate their rideshare after arriving in Boston from Florida. The travelers were surprised at how far they had to walk to get to the rideshare location.
Ann Iturra and Jeremy Reineck huddled over a cell phone as they tried to navigate their rideshare after arriving in Boston from Florida. The travelers were surprised at how far they had to walk to get to the rideshare location.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The change at Logan was intended to get cars off airport terminal roads by directing them to the garage, while also reducing the number of drivers leaving the airport toward Boston without a passenger by allowing drivers to quickly pick up a new fare at the central spot.

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It was met with outcry from Uber, Lyft, and their riders, who envisioned a miserable experience for passengers and the potential for chaotic traffic and confusion at the garage’s pickup and drop-off locations. And Uber, for its part, said there has been an uptick in rider complaints, including from one passenger who claimed to have missed a flight because of the walk.

But at least on the Monday before Christmas, the system appeared to be operating as intended. A steady stream of cars rolled in to designated drop-off areas, drivers assisted passengers with their bags, and passengers made their way to their flights as drivers looped around to the pickup area to catch their next fare.

That’s not to say flyers are pleased. The centralized system has, no doubt, added a hardship for passengers, who can now add the walk between the garage and the terminal to all the many hassles associated with air travel.

“This is a long and stressful time,” said Mira Dirkx of Belgium, who carried two bags through the airport to the garage to catch a ride. “It was confusing.”

Massport said video evidence suggested that traffic on terminal roads has gone down with the policy. But the agency has indeed seen an uptick in passenger complaints since the change took effect.

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“We do still have passengers who are shocked and surprised when they get to the airport,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan. “It’s no surprise to us that we’re getting comments that passengers don’t like the change.”

Yet complaints on social media about walks lasting as long as 15 minutes may be overstated. A Boston Globe reporter on Monday found that a walk from the drop-off area to each terminal can range from under 4 minutes (Terminal A) to about 6.5 minutes (Terminal B). (Granted, the reporter did not have any luggage.)

Uber and Lyft said the new policy has been implemented mostly smoothly, though both still have reservations. Lyft, for example, said that despite efforts to boost wireless signals in the garage prior to the policy change, riders and drivers still run into occasional glitches that make it difficult to connect. Some passengers, meanwhile, said the drop-off in the garage is in some ways better than the scramble for space at the terminal curb. “It’s definitely less chaotic,” said Ricardo Reese, as he walked from the garage toward a long-awaited vacation to Spain.

But Reese did have one significant complaint: The signs telling riders where to go were not as clear as they could be. Other passengers echoed this criticism; for example, while the buttons on most of the elevators linking the terminal and the garage include a symbol indicating where the ride-hail lot is located, at least one elevator did not.

Massport officials said they are “working to constantly update signage” for the garage based on feedback from riders and drivers.

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The new policy was also criticized by ride-hail services and their supporters as a gift to the struggling taxi industry, which is still allowed at the curb. But some drivers, who have long lamented airport trips, say the new policy is actually better for them.

After dropping off a fare, drivers have typically been required to wait in a designated lot, sometimes up to an hour before getting matched with their next trip. Rather than wait, drivers often left the property and went back into Boston without a rider — a so-called “deadhead” trip that also frustrated transportation officials and neighborhood activists because it added to the crippling traffic on Route 1A.

But when the trips were centralized in the garage, Massport allowed Uber and Lyft to deploy technology that immediately matches drivers who have just completed a trip with their next ride, allowing them to bypass the long waits in the lot.

“What I’ve found is that about half the time, within 2 minutes, before I leave the garage, I have a passenger,” said Tom West, a driver from Marblehead. “Before, I would leave the airport empty nine out of 10 times. Now it’s a little better.”

Uber spokesman Harry Hartfield said the company is still not convinced that the garage is the best way to cut down on the deadhead trips. According to Uber, a little more than 40 percent of drivers are being matched with riders after ending an airport trip. Based on some testing, the company said, the figure might be even higher if Massport allowed drop-offs at the curb, because there would be more time for the driver to be matched with a rider before exiting the premises.

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Logan officials have argued such a policy wouldn’t solve the congestion problem on airport roads.


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