Sea-Tac Establishes Environmental Guidelines for Ridesharing Companies

Mike Schwanz
Published in: 

Seattle has long been considered one of the greenest cities in the United States, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is making sure that the ground transportation options it offers passengers live up to that reputation. 

Since 2003, SEA has required taxis servicing the airport to meet various environmental standards. Now, it is applying the same criteria to ridesharing companies as well.  

Project: Environmental Standards for Ridesharing Services 
Location: Seattle-Tacoma Int'l Airport
Companies Involved: Lyft; Uber; Wingz
Sample Provisions: Vehicle emissions/fuel efficiency requirements; penalties for deadheading; reporting requirements
Pilot Timeline: March 31, 2016 - March 31, 2017
2014 Outbound Taxi Trips: 818,526 
2015 Outbound Taxi Trips: 920,062 
Trips by Ridesharing Companies in April 2016: 39,975
Reduction of Taxi Trips vs. April 2015: 6.7%
Trips by Ridesharing Companies in May 2016: 51,438
Reduction of Taxi Trips vs. May 2015: 9.1%

On March 31, 2016, the Port of Seattle officially began allowing select transportation network companies-Uber, Lyft and Wingz-to pick up and drop off riders at SEA. On the same date, it started a one-year pilot program with provisions that outline fuel efficiency/emissions standards for such vehicles, measures to decrease deadheading (miles driven without a passenger) and incentives to encourage drivers to promote carpooling among customers.  

Details of the pilot program include: 
• $5 per trip pickup fee for vehicles driving for transportation network companies.
• Pickups are restricted to the third floor of SEA's parking garage. No pickups are allowed on airport drives.
• Each ridesharing company is required to use its customized software to report whenever vehicles using its app enter the geo-fences (virtual perimeters) around the airport drive.
• Ridesharing companies are required to send monthly information on each vehicle servicing the airport, with specific data regarding pick-ups, drop-offs and other activity details. 
• Ridesharing companies are required to adhere to the Port's Environmental Key Performance Indicator (E-KPI), which establishes a threshold for emissions based on a fleet's weighted average mile-per-gallon performance, deadheading statistics, and pooling of passengers who are otherwise unaffiliated. If companies do not meet the environmental performance standards after six-month and nine-month periods, they incur additional $5 per trip fees until they achieve the Port's green benchmarks. 

E-KPI guidelines may appear to be overly complicated, but they are not as bad as they seem, says Stephanie Meyn, manager of the Climate Protection Program at the airport. "For one thing, drivers operating under the Uber app know they need to get at least 45 mpg on their vehicles in order to pick up passengers, so they buy various hybrid or electric models," she says. "Ultimately, this saves them money on gas." (See sidebar 69 for info about hybrids at SEA.) 

"In addition, the TNCs (transportation network companies) provide the vehicle data that we need," adds Meyn. "The companies accumulate all of this data, and use it for the monthly report they send to us. The drivers themselves are not involved in doing this."

Worth the Effort
"Most airports require GPS-based activity data from TNCs," continues Meyn. "While we have to request additional data to calculate the E-KPI, this is data the companies already collect. We need the make, model and vehicle year, and then our data systems look up the EPA fuel economy of that vehicle. We also have data on the success rate of carpooling and deadhead reduction. We do all the calculations. We don't ask the drivers or TNCs to do this."

To help decrease deadheading and manage vehicle traffic at the airport, SEA established a holding lot specifically for ridesharing drivers. The lot is especially useful for drivers dropping off passengers during off-peak times, because they can wait for business to pick up during busier flight periods without leaving the airport grounds. There is a three-hour time limit for drivers to receive deadheading reduction credits.

Drivers also get credit for carpooling passengers, but results for that component of the program may not be known for several months, notes Meyn. Uber and Lyft have apps that help customers share rides, and travelers seem to be slowly getting used to the idea. "Business travelers who have been using taxis for many years may be hesitant to use ridesharing. But it does save passengers money, so I expect it will catch on, especially for personal travel," she reasons.

Looking Forward
As is the case in most markets, younger people use ridesharing apps more than older demographic groups in the greater Seattle region. "As time goes on, we expect older passengers to get more comfortable using TNCs to get to and from the airport," Meyn predicts.

With the airport's pilot program still in its infancy, SEA will not perform a full environmental analysis on it until sometime in October 2016, after new provisions have been in effect for about six months. But for now, each TNC is sending monthly reports to airport officials. "This spring and summer, we have been doing E-KPI calculations and working closely with all the ridesharing companies to help them with any issues they might have," Meyn says.

"So far, so good," she reports. Meyn and Sustainability Manager Leslie Stanton give regular updates about the pilot program to senior leaders on the Port of Seattle Commission, which oversees SEA as well and local maritime activities. "This project is very important to the elected commissioners," Stanton says. "The commissioners hold the TNCs very responsible. They take it seriously. The voters want this as well. Seattle is one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the country, so the people here expect the airport to do its part to reduce emissions."

Taxis, Too
The environmental standards recently applied to ridesharing companies have been in effect for taxis operating at SEA for more than a decade. Because Yellow Cab holds the contract to pick up passengers leaving the airport, its vehicles also must meet SEA's 45 mile per gallon fuel efficiency standard average and other requirements such as deadhead reduction. (Any taxi company may drop off passengers at the airport.)

Yellow Cab's contract expires this fall, but it is expected to be one of the bidders for the airport's next five-year contract. The airport issued a request for proposals in May/June, and SEA officials were evaluating responses from several companies in July/August. 

SEA's requirements for taxis, and now ridesharing vehicles, establish a decidedly green benchmark for the industry regarding mainstay ground transportation options. "We are proud that we are the only airport in the world with such strict environmental standards," notes Stanton. 

Seattle is Hybrid Country 
Not surprisingly, the rate of hybrid ownership in Seattle is high compared to other U.S. markets. According to Nielsen Scarborough market research, about 5% of all vehicles in the area are hybrids-slightly more than double the national average.  

Although outdoorsy Subaru Foresters are a much more common sight in the area, 13,000 Priuses are registered as passenger vehicles in King County, WA. The zip code with the highest rate of Prius ownership includes Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and Tukwila-middle-class neighborhoods with many international residents. In these areas, there are 414 Priuses for every 10,000 car-owning households. 

The overall top-selling electric car in the greater Seattle area is the Nissan Leaf, but the Toyota Prius is by the far the leading model used by ridesharing companies operating at SEA. Other popular models include Honda Civic hybrids, as well as Ford Focus and Nissan Leaf electric plug-ins.

Since SEA launched its ridesharing pilot in late March, personnel are even seeing luxury-level Teslas picking up passengers at the airport. "I guess the word has spread," quips Stephanie Meyn, manager of SEA's Climate Protection Program. "Sea-Tac Airport prioritizes low-carbon transportation and getting you there in style." 


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