Lyft, Uber seeking to make deals for airport service

Southwest Airlines remains the busiest passenger carrier at Valley International Airport, with 59 percent of total enplanements in the past year. Rick Kelley/Valley Morning Star

HARLINGEN — Ride-share companies Lyft and Uber have contacted officials at Valley International Airport to pursue VIA’s offer to allow them to provide service for arriving passengers.

The companies are reviewing the airport’s proposed operating procedures, said Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA, in an email Monday.

“ Lyft is thrilled to begin immediate service at Valley International Airport (HRL) and provide the best possible experience for our riders and drivers,” spokesperson Kaitlyn Carl said via email. “Riders at more than 300 airports across the country benefit from Lyft’s reliable rides, and we look forward to continued collaboration with HRL airport staff to bring seamless, affordable transportation to Harlingen residents and visitors alike.”

The apparent breakthrough after months of negotiations with Lyft and Uber came last week when VIA officials brokered a deal with Platinum Transportation, a cab company that also provides shuttle bus service to South Padre Island. Platinum waived the final year of its exclusive transit contract with VIA but will remain at the airport.

Any cab service can drop off passengers at the airport. Platinum paid a nominal $400 annual fee to the airport for exclusivity in providing transportation to arriving passengers. The low fee was negotiated after Platinum invested about $200,000 in its operations at VIA.

Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft rely on customers who have created an account to use a mobile app to contact their drivers to be picked up. They have undercut charges traditional cab services levy on passengers in hundreds of U.S. cities by employing contract drivers using their own vehicles.

Lyft and Uber currently employ what is called a “geo fence” utilizing GPS which prevents drivers from picking up passengers on airport grounds. Many arriving passengers evaded this feature by walking off airport property to be picked up outside the Marine Military Academy.

Previously, airport officials had proposed a $2.50 per ride fee to Lyft and Uber to transport passengers away from the airport but the ride-share companies were unresponsive to this proposal.

Under the current proposed agreements, none of the three companies will pay a per-ride fee to the airport.

VIA officials created a staging area for Lyft and Uber drivers to avoid clogging the departure and arrival lane at the airport. Esterly said it is several hundred yards away from the passenger loading area but will allow Lyft and Uber drivers to reach their fares within about 30 seconds.