MassPort has recently set new rules for Uber and Lyft and other Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) at Logan. Logan is a special case, but we are facing unacceptable congestion across the region and the fundamental problem is single-rider vehicle use. Right now, TNCs are part of that problem. However, they can be part of the solution if more of their trips become shared trips instead of single rider trips.
As congestion increases all across the region, we simply cannot get people where they need to go in single rider vehicles — there just isn’t enough asphalt at rush hour. The perennial question is how to get people into higher occupancy vehicles, including public transit.
When TNCs initially brought their superior dispatching technology to market, they competed most directly with taxis. TNCs now dwarf taxis even at the airport. Now TNCs are competing directly with higher-occupancy modes, including public transit, and so are contributing to congestion. They especially create additional congestion when they are moving empty — “dead-heading”.
The efficiency of TNC dispatching ironically encourages dead-head return trips at Logan. The best bet for a Boston taxi driver dropping off at Logan may be to just sit at the airport and wait for a fare. By contrast the TNC driver has the chance to make money all day long and so is more likely to prefer to leave the airport empty and keep driving.
MassPort’s proposed centralization of TNC drop-off and pick-up at Logan was intended to reduce terminal curb-side congestion and to reduce dead-head trips by facilitating re-match to new passengers in the central area. In the compromise finally adopted by the MassPort Board, TNCs will continue to be able to drop-off curbside in the morning, but will cycle to the central area for pickups. TNC riders will pay a new drop off fee of $3.25, discounted to $1.50 for shared rides.
I share the concerns of many that the new rules seem to unfairly disadvantage Uber and Lyft as compared to taxis and limousines. I’m not as troubled as some are by the partially centralized traffic flow for TNCs — I am hopeful that Logan will make the new flow as workable as possible for all riders. They are promising baggage check and wheel chair access and other necessities and conveniences within the TNC area. And all travelers will benefit from a reduction in congestion.
I remain troubled that a non-Boston taxi or a limo service will pay no drop-off fee although they are even more likely than an Uber/Lyft driver to return empty and contribute to dead-head congestion. A more rational approach would charge all ride services based on their efficiency — the total number of riders they are carrying per round trip; the more the riders, the lower the fee. Riders entering or leaving Logan alone, especially in hours that public transportation is available, should pay a steeper fee.
While I believe that a steeper differential is necessary to result in increased sharing on trips to Logan, the changes will help increase sharing on rides home from Logan. Currently, to prevent cycling of vehicles on the ring roads, Massport prohibits outgoing ridesharing. At the new central location, ridesharing will be encouraged.
MassPort deserves a lot of credit for their efforts to increase public transportation to the airport — the expansion of Logan Express buses is a positive aspect of the proposal that is not getting much attention.
TNCs are here to stay. We need to explore new partnerships with them to reduce single-occupancy vehicle use across the region. The broader opportunities include statewide TNC fee structures to more heavily favor ride-sharing and also marrying public transit GPS technology to TNC dispatching so people could better coordinate trips using both transit and a TNC ride.
There may be new ways of scheduling and sharing transportation resources that we just haven’t thought of yet — new technology has created a lot of room for both public and private creativity.