Deal opens airport door for Lyft, Uber

By RICK KELLEY

Staff Writer

HARLINGEN — The ride-share dilemma at Valley International Airport may be close to being solved.

Platinum Transportation has agreed to waive the last year of its exclusive contract to carry arriving passengers off the airport grounds, opening the way for ride-share companies Uber and Lyft to also compete for these passengers.

Any cab company can drop passengers off at the airport, but a few years ago Platinum signed an agreement with VIA as the only cab company which could enter airport grounds to whisk away arriving passengers.

“Platinum is our current provider of ground transportation, taxi-cabs, the shuttle to the Island as well, that’s actually who we met with in order to discuss the contract and interpret the contract and make that decision,” Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA, said Friday. “They have been paying a fee to operate and they will no longer pay that fee to operate on a per-trip or per month fee.

“They agreed that it’s best for the airport, it’s best for the community, that we move forward with allowing TNC (transportation network companies) operators to operate now on a level playing field,” he added.

Under its contract, Platinum paid a fee to the airport of about $400 per year to operate, which Esterly said was kept low due to the fact the company invested $200,000 in infrastructure to set itself up at the airport. The company will continue to provide taxi service at the airport.

Contract or no contract, ride-share companies have been transporting arriving passengers who hailed a ride using a mobile phone app.

“There are ways, of course, for people who are savvy to circumvent that and basically what was happening is you would have to walk off the airport property, which wasn’t far, about 700 feet or so, over by the MMA Academy and they would pick people up over there,” Esterly said.

Previously, Valley International officials had proposed a $2.50 per ride fee to Lyft to transport passengers away from the airport. Lyft did not respond to that offer.

As of Friday, Lyft and Uber had not responded to the airport’s latest proposal of a user agreement with the ride-share companies. Esterly said the Federal Aviation Administration has signed off on the plan, but Lyft or Uber will have to sign a user agreement in order to use the airport grounds.

Officials with Lyft and Uber did not respond Friday to emails seeking comment.

No taxi fees will be charged to Platinum or any ride-share companies using the airport grounds.

“Anybody can drop off at the terminal building,” Esterly said. “But pickup will be in a designated area near where the taxicabs are right now, in front of those.

“We also have created a TNC staging lot so that we don’t have a lot of cars parked right in front of the terminal building where people want to get in and out and pick people up,” he added. “We have a little staging lot that’s not even a quarter of a mile, maybe an eighth of a mile, down the road and the TNCs can actually stage in that lot.”

Esterly said that when these ride-share drivers have a fare come up on the app, they can be at the pickup location within 30 seconds.

“I think it is a great compromise all the way around,” he said. “I urge Uber and Lyft to … come serve our customers. We have 700,000 of them a year coming and going, so it makes a lot of sense.”