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Ride-sharing companies now can pick up passengers at Pittsburgh airport

| Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 11:37 a.m.
Allegheny County Airport Authority officials announced Tuesday the creation of a new permit for transportation network companies. Uber, the smartphone-based car service with drivers in personal vehicles, is the first to obtain one.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County Airport Authority officials announced Tuesday the creation of a new permit for transportation network companies. Uber, the smartphone-based car service with drivers in personal vehicles, is the first to obtain one.

The latest showdown between ride-sharing services and traditional taxi companies is set to unfold along the commercial curb at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Allegheny County Airport Authority officials announced Tuesday the setup of a new permit for transportation network companies. Uber, the smartphone-based car service with drivers in personal vehicles, is the first to obtain one.

Pittsburgh Transportation Group President Jamie Campolongo said he fears Uber will charge less than the average $37.50 cab fare to the city, pricing out his Yellow Cab drivers. Ride-share has disrupted Campolongo's fleet to the tune of about 20 cars, and he fears fewer cabs at the airport if Uber's popularity picks up.

“They have the ability to surge pricing, they have the ability to discount. We can't do either one of those,” he said, citing state regulations covering fares.

Uber charges riders a per-mile and per-minute costs, which goes up based on how many of its drivers are on the road. The new permit charges a $2.90 per trip fee, a one-time $14,000 security deposit and a $12,000 annual permit fee. Yellow Cab pays the authority more than $400,000 annually to service the airport, including a monthly commercial curb management fee of $5,200, and a $2-per-trip fee.

Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said the airport has different fees for all types of ground transportation, from taxis to limos to shuttles.

“It's not a taxi service,” she said. “It's a different business model.”

Earlier this year, security officials ticketed multiple Uber drivers caught picking up passengers without a permit. Cassotis said the new permit policy establishes a legal operating structure for an in-demand service.

“We created this policy as a result of listening to our passengers, understanding their needs and also being able to respond to the changing marketplace,” she said.

Riders can wait for their Uber driver outside the baggage claim level of the airport. The area is the same curb where taxi companies and shuttles operate. But Uber drivers will not be permitted to wait around for fares, authority spokesman Bob Kerlik said.

VetTaxi, operated by Star Transportation Group, pays a monthly commercial curb management fee of $1,500, plus a $660 annual permit fee, a $55 per-vehicle fee for standard sized cars, a $23 transponder fee and a $2 per-trip fee.

“The position from STG has always been that disruption and corrections to ground transportation regulations and fees is great for business and consumers, but only when a level playing field exists,” Chuck Half, manager for projects and productivity at Star Transportation Group, said in a statement. Half said he believes the airport is treating ride-sharing companies differently.

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said the rival ride-sharing company is “in conversations with the airport and hope to be operating under a permit very soon.” The service is available at eight other American airports, including Austin, Denver and Indianapolis.

Jennifer Krusius, general manager for Uber Pittsburgh, said the new permit shows Pittsburgh can “embrace choice and economic opportunity” by responding to innovation.

“Pittsburgh International Airport is at the forefront of this growing trend across the country, demonstrating its recognition of the value ride-sharing brings in not only getting riders safely and reliably to their destination, but also helping to reduce congestion and improve operations,” Krusius said.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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