Late last week, a judge dismissed two lawsuits against the City of Charlotte. Both were brought by taxi companies and alleged a pay-to-play scheme determined which companies could pick up passengers at Charlotte-Douglas International. The ruling is a major legal victory for the city and the airport. But it doesn’t mean ground transportation at the airport necessarily goes back to the status quo.
Sitting in his office just across from the airport’s business valet lot, Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle acknowledged the taxi company allegations got a bigger ball rolling.
"As we started to look at the taxi contracts specifically, we decided it was time to look at ground transportation options as a whole."
In 2011 the airport signed a contract to allow just three cab companies to operate ‘on demand’ service at Charlotte-Douglas. That means picking up passengers at taxi stands, those who haven’t called or scheduled another service to drive them to and fro.
But a lot has changed over the last four years. Take the web based taxi services of Uber or Lyft.
"They start to operate in almost a grey area," says Cagle, "where its almost on demand."
Almost on demand according to Cagle because some Uber drivers hover around the airport, or park in cell phone waiting areas.
"So that when they get that quote unquote call they’re on hand."
Which violates the spirit if not the letter of current airport rules. Cagle says those rules are in need of a fresh set of eyes. So the airport has paid consulting group Taxi Research Partners, or TRP, more than $70,000 to do just that.
"They will provide us with recommendations for how to approach ground transportation holistically at the airport," says Cagle, "and that will lead to what we do next."
Charlotte Douglas gave TRP a list of eight benchmark airports to consider while they compile their recommendations. Some, like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston and Miami are large hubs. Others like St. Louis are not.
"St. Louis is certainly a smaller airport than Charlotte in terms of total number of passengers," concedes Cagle, "but when you boil that down and look at local passengers, that’s where we become a better match."
TRP began work on this project earlier this year. Cagle says one option under consideration is pooled van service from companies like SuperShuttle.
"Charlotte Douglas doesn’t offer those services but certainly we would like to see that as a possible future option for our customers."
And TRP will examine whether the airport should officially ban Uber and Lyft service at the airport. That has been done at airports in Las Vegas and Miami, two of the benchmark hubs being used in this report.
"I’m not prepared to say I think that’s an option for us," says Cagle. But he ads, that’s why they brought in experts to examine the issue. He and the consultants are scheduled to submit their findings to the Charlotte City Council in April.