Up until Tuesday, Uber drivers were only allowed to drop off passengers at the airport, but they were not allowed to do pickups. As of late Tuesday afternoon, that will no longer be the case.
The Allegheny County Airport Authority announced a new policy which allows transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber, Lyft and Yellow Z to legally operate on airport property. TNCs connect passengers and drivers through apps.
Uber is the first company to obtain a permit to pick up passengers at Pittsburgh International, which joins a growing number of facilities embracing the newish technology.
“Pittsburgh International joins airports including San Francisco, Denver, Nashville, Austin, Indianapolis and John Wayne Airport (Orange County, CA), according to Airports Council International, in permitting the popular ride-sharing companies to access airport facilities,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
Uber had been picking up passengers after its growth in Pittsburgh, but drivers were getting ticketed because they didn’t have the proper permits. Now, TNCs will follow airport policy and all rules and procedures established by the Public Utilities Commission, which authorizes their operation in the state.
“New permits for TNCs will bring increased revenue for the airport and this policy offers a legal operating structure for them to work within,” said Christina Cassotis, Airport Authority CEO.
The new policy gives TNCs a three-year permit, charges a $2.90 per trip fee, which goes to the Airport Authority, a $14,000 security deposit and a $12,000 annual permit fee. Drivers can pick up passengers along a designated route along the commercial curb; temporary signage will be in place until permanent signage goes up.
Not everyone is pleased with this announcement.
“The Airport Authority, with this decision, has created an uneven playing field, and we will be carefully watching as this situation plays out,” said Jamie Campolongo, president of Pittsburgh Transportation Group (PTG), parent company of Yellow Cab.
In a statement, he said Yellow Cab currently pays the Airport Authority in excess of $400,000 annually for the right to service the airport. Cassotis said Uber and the like are not taxi services, and therefore wouldn't be subject to the same fees.
“We have different fees for different types of ground transportation at the airport,” she said. “We have fees for taxis, we have fees for commercial shuttles, we have fees for transportation network companies.”
Cassotis said allowing TNCs to operate at the airport compliments the services already there such as limos, shuttles, buses and taxis. She said the Airport Authority has reached out to Lyft and Yellow Z and is hopeful they will also sign on. PTG's Campolongo said he is concerned with Uber's practice of surge pricing, which raises passenger rates depending on demand.
“Imagine,” he noted, “the reaction of visitors, convention goers and the business travelling public when they are suddenly faced with Uber’s surge pricing which could see a trip from the Airport to downtown Pittsburgh doubling or tripling in cost. Think about what that could mean to the City’s image and our growing convention business."
Uber and Lyft exploded in the Pittsburgh market last year, but spent months battling the PUC and traditional taxi services who wanted them regulated. Ultimately the PUC granted two-year experimental licenses to both companies, which are the two biggest TNCs operating currently.