XNA to track Uber, Lyft drivers with geofence technology, require them to pay for passenger pickups

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 4,592 views 

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) plans to implement a geofence system that will monitor transit providers at the airport and to charge them when they pick up passengers.

Ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft will be required to operate this way once the system is in place, said Kelly Johnson, airport director. A timeline for when it will go into effect has yet to be determined.

On Wednesday (Aug. 9), members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority discussed the geofence system and transit providers in an operations committee meeting. As of Aug. 1, legislation allows the airport to require transit providers to have a lease agreement with the airport in order to operate there, Johnson said. She said Lyft has agreed to operate under the geofence system, but Uber is weighing its options.

When drivers of transit providers arrive at the airport with their provider’s app open, the system can detect their arrival. Under XNA’s system, drivers will be charged a $2 per trip pickup fee. Lyft’s signed lease shows they plan to start operations at the airport on Aug. 17. Uber was OK with a similar agreement, but the company is unsure whether it will dedicate the engineering time needed to work with the geofence system, she said.

The airport will use a third-party company, American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), to set up and operate the system. For 5% of the revenue from transit provider operations, the association will monitor the system, charge the driver the $2 fee and send the collected fee to the airport.

Before the third-party began operating its geofence, Spokane (Wash.) International Airport was monitoring its own system. But when the third-party operated it, the airport’s revenue rose 300%, Johnson said.

“Obviously there is some value in having a third independent-party (operate) the geofence. We think that has value to us.”

Uber has yet to agree to operate under the new system, but if they don’t and the new system goes into effect, it will mean they will no longer be able to do business at the airport, she said.

“We don’t want Uber to go away,” Johnson said. “A lot of people use Uber. But they do have to do some engineering to work with the geofence with AAAE.” However, Uber is unsure whether the airport’s operation is large enough to warrant spending the engineering time to work on the geofence.

“We have given them basically, sort of, an ultimatum that once Lyft starts if you’re not on board and (don’t) sign the agreement, you’re going to have to cease operations. … We’ll make sure Lyft is up and running prior to basically telling them to cease operations if they don’t get on board and start paying the airport like every other ground operator out here does.”

Also, the Uber drivers have typically waited to pickup passengers in the new cell phone lot, southeast of the terminal. But the plan is to move the waiting drivers to the old cell phone lot. They also will be required to pick up passengers in the taxi lane.

Airport staff have recently picked up on some drivers with repeat customers who instead of using the app will have the customer call the driver directly for pickup, and the drivers wait in the short-term lot because it’s free for to park there for less than 30 minutes.

“They’re cheating the company they are working for and cheating us,” Johnson said.

Staff is working to get the license plate numbers of those drivers and turning them into Uber.