An arriving passenger waits for a ride at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Uber X, Lyft set for legal pickups at Atlanta airport

Calling for an Uber or Lyft pickup at the Atlanta airport is about to finally become legal.

Hartsfield-Jackson International will launch regulated pickups by Uber X and Lyft starting Sunday, with rideshare passengers paying a $3.85 surcharge per ride from the airport.

Until now rideshare pickups have been illegal because drivers didn’t have permits to serve the airport, and some were cited though enforcement was spotty.

The city of Atlanta, which owns and runs Hartsfield-Jackson, began working on regulations last year. The city council approved the rules and fees in September and set a Jan. 1 start date.

Starting Sunday, pickups will be allowed at lower level curbside areas, with signs in the airport labeled “rideshare” directing arriving travelers to those spots.

The surcharge includes a $1.50 fee, the same paid by taxi cab passengers, along with a $2.35 per-passenger security surcharge paid to the airport by companies like Uber and Lyft that use private background checks instead of a state fingerprint check. The $3.85 surcharge applies to pickups at the airport, but not drop-offs, which have always been allowed.

The purpose of the fees, according to city ordinance, is to pay for regulatory and security activity and not to raise revenue.

The companies have indicated they will pass along the surcharge to customers.

Uber Atlanta “has worked closely with Hartsfield-Jackson on implementing the details of the agreement to ensure a smooth experience,” said Luke Marklin, local general manager for the rideshare giant.

The airport is already the No. 1 drop-off destination in Atlanta for Lyft, and is likely to become the No. 1 starting point for rides as well with the legalization of pickups, Lyft Atlanta general manager Sam Bond said.

“There’s so much more potential now. With pickups being an option, we really think that things are going to take off at the airport,” Bond said. “I think it’s really going to be a huge driver of Lyft’s growth in 2017.”

The airport originally planned to have a limited number of car spaces for ride-share pick-ups. But under the rules taking effect Sunday, passengers can be picked up anywhere on the lower level curbsides of the domestic terminal, or on the outer curb of the arrivals lower level at the international terminal. In addition to signs, instructions in the apps will direct passengers to those areas, where they can indicate to the driver the door number they are waiting near.

Uber and Lyft drivers will get the ride requests while waiting in a newly-designated “staging area” parking lot with 250 spaces off Sullivan Road, then proceed to the terminal to pick up customers about a 5-minute drive away.

Ride-share drivers will not be permitted to wait in the cellphone lot, which will be blacked-out for ride-share app use. The airport will use a geo-fencing system to regulate where drivers can wait, with a goal of preventing ride-share drivers from clogging up airport roads circling the terminal to wait for ride requests.

Drivers also will be required to display plastic rear-view mirror permit hang-tags to pick up at the airport.

“It should be a pretty seamless process,” with “fairly quick” pick-ups, according to Bond. He said he didn’t expect 250 drivers between Uber and Lyft to be regularly waiting in the staging area at any one time, though “as demand grows over time, you might get to vehicle numbers overall that get to the hundreds.”

A big attractions for ride-share users is price. The flat rate for taxi rides from Hartsfield-Jackson is $30 to downtown. Uber X rides can cost closer to $15, though price varies depending on demand.

The new rules do not require fingerprint-based background checks of ride-share drivers, as was proposed by Hartsfield-Jackson officials early last year. The then-general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson was fired in May, and the proposal for fingerprint checks was dropped.

Instead, ride-share firms can use private background checks. Both Uber and Lyft had threatened to stop serving Hartsfield-Jackson if the fingerprint requirement were put in place.

Taxi drivers had objected to the legalization of Uber and Lyft pickups, arguing that the ride-share operations should not operate unregulated while taxis were subjected to strict permitting requirements. The requirements and fees for ride-share pickups came after months of negotiations, as airport and city officials acknowledged the demand for Uber and Lyft among consumers but sought a balance on regulation of the services.

While airport officials have said ride-share pickups have been illegal until Jan. 1, it’s an open secret that Uber and Lyft drivers and passengers have long been arranging rides at the airport. The airport issued some citations and occasionally impounded cars, but many passengers arranged ride-share pickups without incident.

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