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Cab drivers balk at Port of Seattle's new airport contract

The road that winds around Sea-Tac Airport.
Flickr Photo/Ping Li (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The road that winds around Sea-Tac Airport.

Last month, the Port of Seattle chose a new taxi company to serve Sea-Tac Airport. East Side For Hire won the exclusive contract.

The change happened quietly in the middle of last month. But the Port Commission meeting yesterday was anything but quiet.

Drivers and union members pushed back. KUOW’s Kim Malcolm spoke with reporter Carolyn Adolph.

Tell us about the reaction to this new contract.

People were there to protest, and indeed they protested more than five years ago, when Yellow Cab won this contract away from STITA.

This time is different. Last time the company didn't matter too much. STITA drivers migrated to Yellow and life went on.

But Yellow drivers are union drivers. East Side For Hire drivers are owner-operators.

So the unions were out in force. Lots of people with signs and lots of leaders, including the head of the M. L. King Labor Council, Nicole Grant.

What did the drivers say?   

One driver said it simplest: When the elephants fight, the grass gets hurt.

This spring the port let Uber and Lyft pick up Sea-Tac passengers for a one-year pilot program. Those are non-union shops and they are picking up passengers that might otherwise have taken cabs. 

That's more elephants, well beyond STITA or Yellow, vying for this contract – and a time when the Ubers and Lyfts of this world are thoroughly disrupting the taxi business in the rest of town.

The airport taxi drivers fear for their incomes already. And then came the reveal that the East Side for Hire contract could deliver as much as $36 million in profit for the port. That's around double what the Yellow contract was delivering – and the drivers know that the money is going to come from them.

Some drivers said they’re worried about how they will support their families if they have to double their payments to the port for the privilege of getting passengers from the airport.

What was the port's reaction to all this?

The port says it gave the taxi companies a chance to set their bids after they experienced the Uber effect – but they didn't. And now the drivers are complaining.

It's also important to note there was trouble with the Yellow contract – auditors found that Yellow failed to honor everything in its contract with the Port – and that it cost the port valuable income from the taxi service.

Now what happens?

Now we will see what becomes of that request. The contract is set to transfer over on Oct. 1. 

Photo: “Sea-TacAirport” by Ping Li on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).