Valley International still pursuing contract with Lyft

Passengers were stacking up ahead of the security checkpoint at Valley International Airport in Harlingen yesterday. The airport and its airlines are gearing up for an unusually busy spring break travel period.

HARLINGEN — Valley International Airport’s stop-start negotiations with the ride-share company Lyft are in a holding pattern as officials await a response to what they think is a done deal.

Last month airport officials had a breakthrough with Lyft officials by reaching a tentative deal to assess a fee for Lyft drivers picking up passengers at the airport.

As of now, the airport has an exclusive contract with Platinum Transportation for passengers who just landed that need cab service. Any cab or ride-share company can drop passengers off at the airport.

Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA, told the airport board Friday that he has been in contact with Lyft but no deal has been finalized.

“I believe at the last meeting, or a few meetings back, the board wanted us to negotiate something with Lyft and try to get us a deal so that we can start getting passengers picked up at the terminal building instead of walking out to an off-airport site,” Esterly said.

“We discussed this with (Lyft) and came to an understanding that it would be fair to look at a $2.50 pickup fee and not have a drop-off fee,” he added. “They were happy with that and requested the agreement that indicated that. I sent that to them and … since then I’ve called and sent emails at least three or four or five times haven’t had a reply.”

Esterly did say to the board he was confident a final agreement would be reached with Lyft, and that the airport already has moved to accommodate the Lyft drivers.

“I can tell you there’s no time wasted on our side,” Esterly said. “We’ve already purchased the signs, we’ve already painted the staging lot as well.”

Lyft drivers would be allocated a staging area in the parking lot on the south side of the airport terminal. Their pickup spot would be near the current cab station occupied by Platinum.

Esterly was asked by the board just how the airport would monitor Lyft and ensure the airport was being fully compensated for access to passengers. He said the GPS-linked system big airports use would not be feasible at VIA.

“In the larger airports, there’s some software does it and it’s very expensive, and doesn’t make a lot of sense for us,” Esterly said. “We would require them to tell us and then save their data and then if we need to audit, then we can go back and audit those.

“That’s how it’s done at most small airports,” he added. “It’s really kind of on the honor system but we have the right to audit.”

rkelley@valleystar.com