Uber, Lyft, Wingz ridership at Seattle airport spikes 200% as Port raises per-trip fee by $1

(GeekWire chart; data from Port of Seattle)

Letting Uber and Lyft pick up passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport seems to be a net positive for both consumers and the Port of Seattle.

It’s been 18 months since the Port launched a one-year pickup pilot program for transportation network companies at the Seattle airport and ridership data tells the story.

There were 39,975 recorded pickups by Uber, Lyft, and Wingz drivers in April 2016, when the program started. Last month, there were 120,803 pickups, which is up from 74,405 in September 2016. You can see the growth in the graph above — there have been 1,534,041 total TNC pickups since the program launched.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Uber and Lyft were always able to drop off passengers at Sea-Tac, but the Port’s exclusive contract with Yellow Cab prevented the companies from picking up riders who just arrived from out of town.

That changed last year and clearly there is demand for these services, particularly as passenger levels increase at Sea-Tac, which was the ninth-busiest U.S. airport last year.

Opening up TNC pickups not only offers more choice for consumers, but also brings in additional revenue for the Port, which charges TNCs a $5 per-ride fee for each pickup. It brought in $604,015 in revenue from TNC pickups for September alone, The Puget Sound Business Journal reported.

Now the Port is increasing that fee by $1, citing more support needed for airport maintenance and increased operation staff. It noted that airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other big cities charge “even higher fees of $7-$10 per trip.”

When asked about the fee increase, here’s a statement Uber provided, via Uber Seattle GM Brooke Steger:

“Travelers from around the world have come to expect the convenience, reliability and affordability of using Uber at airports. We’re committed to working with the Port of Seattle to meet the needs of SeaTac travelers and protect important earning opportunities for driver-partners.”

Uber noted that airports in New Orleans, San Diego, Boston, Atlanta, and others charge lower per-trip fees — Sea-Tac’s new $6 fee seems to fall right in the middle.

The Port also noted that TNCs now provide 33 percent of the overall ground transportation services at Sea-Tac, which outpaces the 20 percent provided by on-demand taxi and flat-rate providers.

The Seattle Times noted that traditional taxi pickups dropped 3 percent year-over-year in September from 69,000 to 67,000. Eastside for Hire has the exclusive taxi contract to do pickups at Sea-Tac.

TNC companies also pay the Port an activation fee based on average monthly pickups. In addition to fees, the Port also imposes strict environmental requirements on the companies, which, as part of the pilot program, were required to operate a green vehicle-only airport fleet — with each vehicle meeting 47 MPG or higher — or implement a “Environmental Key Performance Indicator” (E-KPI) standard that will be monitored by the Port on a quarterly basis.

The Port, which has access to a bevy of data from each company related to individual vehicles making trips to and from the airport, set a E-KPI threshold that is also required of taxis: a fleet-weighted average of 45 MPG and 7 percent deadheading reduction.

TNC drivers meet passengers on the third floor of the ground transportation plaza. They are required to wait in a nearby “staging” area parking lot before accepting a hail; Uber, Lyft, and Wingz must use geo-fencing technology to enforce this rule.

The pilot program marked a milestone for what was been a long back-and-forth between Port officials and the transportation companies. The Port met in May, September, and December of 2015 to discuss this topic before finally implementing the program last year in April.

In addition to TNCs, there are other tech-fueled transportation services now available around Sea-Tac, including BMW’s ReachNow and car2go.