Port of Seattle commissioners will decide whether to allow app-based ride services to pick up arriving passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Uber, Lyft and Sidecar drivers could soon be allowed to pick up passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
But first, the Port of Seattle Commission wants to talk with their competitors — including other for-hire and taxi companies — about what works and what doesn’t, and how best to regulate the ride-service industry assisting its travelers.
The Port has an exclusive agreement with Yellow Cab to serve people leaving the airport, though app-based, so-called transportation network companies (TNCs) such as uberX and Lyft are allowed to drop off customers at Sea-Tac.
But TNCs discreetly pick up arriving passengers regardless, said Mark Reis, managing director of the Port’s aviation division.
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“Since they are in unmarked personal vehicles and the transaction that takes place looks the same as (that of) a spouse, or a child or a friend, we can’t regulate them very readily,” Reis told commissioners Tuesday.
“Our recommendation is to finalize an operating agreement with the TNCs to pay the airport and begin operating,” he said.
A memo written by Reis said they could begin operating as early as June or July.
The Port of Seattle is nearing the end of a five-year contract with Yellow Cab, which allows the taxi company to pick up arriving passengers. Yellow Cab pays the Port either $3.67 million or 13 percent of its gross revenue annually from airport trips, whichever is greater.
That contract is to expire at the end of October.
Commissioners expect to take up a one-year extension of Yellow Cab’s deal in the next 30 to 45 days.
In the meantime, the Port will start looking into how best to potentially bring in those other companies.
“We need to make sure it’s very transparent and as open as possible to any folks who want to bid,” said Commission Co-President Stephanie Bowman.
She told Reis she wants him to gather all interested parties to talk before any operating agreement with TNCs is finalized.
Bowman said the meeting could be scheduled within a month.
Other commissioners agreed, saying this is the start of an important discussion to make the process as competitive as possible.
“Should we throw the market wide open?” Commissioner John Creighton asked. “I think that should be under consideration.”
Uber, Lyft and Sidecar representatives have met with Port staff in the past several months. They did not immediately return requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday’s recommendation for a ride-service operating agreement comes just one day after The New York Times reported that airports around the country prohibit TNCs from picking up passengers.
The report said on-demand drivers look for other ways or nearby places to wait for travelers.
Commission Co-President Courtney Gregoire referred to the story as an important reason to expand the conversation among all on-demand car and taxi services.
“We have some lessons to learn from around the country, but we have some lessons to learn here at home,” she said.
Demand for taxi services at Sea-Tac saw a 10 percent rise in 2014, according to the Port. More than 815,000 trips were recorded from the airport last year.