Ground Transportation’s New Normal

Airports Navigate the (R)Evolutionary Shift oF TNCs

By Nicole Nelson

Just beyond the busy holiday season, Eva Cheong recounted San Francisco International Airport’s particularly “rough Thanksgiving” in terms of bottlenecks in roadway congestion.

“When you would walk outside, every other car you would see had an Uber or a Lyft sticker on it,” SFO’s Associate Deputy Airport Director of Airport Services shared of the challenging day-to-day clogged curbside experience in late November 2017. “There are different camps, and the Transportation Network Companies are going to run into those because they are the newest player. But everybody looks to them to say, ‘It is all because of the TNCs.’”

Cheong is not pointing fingers, but readily admits TNCs have largely sparked a broader conversation about just how to reduce the overly crowded curbsides at SFO.

“TNCs have challenged us in terms of us trying to promote high occupancy vehicles and transit first because they’ve made it convenient and affordable for people to take a single vehicle to the airport.”

InterVISTAS Executive Vice President Peter Mandle said the TNC customer base at airports has expanded tremendously, not only in volume, but also with demographics in terms of age range and travel habits.

“As TNCs become more and more popular, the impacts of curbside congestion have become pronounced,” Mandle said. “People who used to use HOVs such as shared-ride vans or transit are now finding TNCs very attractive, and are using those to travel to and from the airport. And because they are transitioning from high occupancy vehicles to single-occupancy vehicles, they are adding to curbside congestion. That is a challenge at SFO, and it’s becoming a challenge at other airports over time.”

At Denver International Airport, Chief Commercial Officer Patrick Heck reports that explosive growth led to the establishment of an initial holding lot within the geofence when TNCs entered the market as a very small piece of ground transportation in 2014.

“The evolution was quick into a very similar story to taxis where we actually have a location where they wait to pick up passengers,” Heck said, noting that TNCs began to eclipse taxi usage in December 2015. “(TNCs) are now operating here and are actually a fairly sizable portion of the ground transportation we receive at the airport.”

After that space was quickly outgrown, the TNCs were moved to a larger location – a very big overflow parking lot – about six minutes away from the terminal.

Cross-country at Boston Logan International, CEO Tom Glynn is experiencing similar curbside concerns with daily passenger car traffic jumping from 9,000 drop offs pre-TNC, to the current tally of nearly 15,000 drop offs with the permitting of services including Uber and Lyft. But unlike Denver, Logan has few options in the way of infrastructural changes due to both the land and water constraints of the New England airport’s topography.

“We are on a postage stamp compared to other airports,” Glynn said, noting the very small footprint of only 1,700 usable acres. “We intend to add some parking spaces over time after a 28-year parking freeze. But in terms of TNCs and taxis, it is really reusing what we have and being creative.”


From coast to coast and in between, the issue of curbside congestion is among a host of new realities that airports face when challenged with revolutionized technologies.

“We’ve addressed everything from the initial wayfinding and signage to what do you call them and how can you help passengers find them,” InterVISTAS Manager Stephanie Box said, noting a whole host of phrases that companies such as Lyft, Uber and Wingz use to describe their services, including ride sharing, ride pooling, ride sourcing and ride hailing. “Should pick-up and drop-off, for example, be in the same location? Obviously, the curbside is the most convenient, but then if it causes really bad congestion, you are impacting all of your other customers who are also trying to access the airport. So there is a trade off between balancing the operations and the customer experience for all passengers. Operationally the TNCs may not like having to be in the garage, and the customer has to walk across the street, but if traffic flow is improved then the wait time for all passengers ends up being lower.”

Beyond customer-centric themes, perhaps the airports’ most glaring issue pertains to money. While this evolution is merely in its infancy, TNCs and airports have already chartered a storied financial history.

Long before Uber and Lyft became household names, TNCs were making a big first impression on North American airports as the ground transportation realm became peppered with ride-sharing vehicles. This elicited a less than favorable response from airports as lost opportunity costs derived from fee-based traditional taxi and limo services were sorely missed and the less costly TNC vehicles stealthily captured the fares.

“The economics have changed as a result of TNCs disrupting the airport market because they offer, in a lot of places, cheaper fares for passengers,” observed LeighFisher Managing Director Jason Snowden, “and sometimes more convenient options than traditional forms of ground transportation.”

Popularity and politics persisted and the confluence of ever-increasing customer demand and lengthy negotiations has brought generalized acceptance and initial solutions to the more than 130 North American airports now offering TNC service.

Widespread use of geo-fencing within defined perimeters has enabled the delegation of fee payment to airports based upon TNC pick-ups and drop-offs and, in many cases, zones have been established for TNCs to share holding areas with other transportation operators.


While these initial issues have been largely hashed out, tension remains as airports poise to approach the next iterations in the evolution of TNCs.

“Airports obviously have a lot of local demands – and sometimes even political pressure – that is placed on them from policy makers,” Snowden said, noting that certain states have limited the rights of airports in terms of how they can separate charges for ground transportation including taxis, TNCs and other providers. “And TNCs have been pretty aggressive in terms of lobbying state and local politicians to, in their words, ‘protect the public interest’ by providing access to less costly and more convenient forms of ground transportation. And the public definitely does like the service.”

But airports, obviously, have a requirement to be as self-sustaining as possible to fund future capital.

“Traditional revenue centers such as parking and rental cars have been impacted dramatically,” Snowden continued. “If those areas aren’t profitable then obviously an airport can’t continue to invest in future infrastructure and make improvements for the general traveling public. So there is a little bit of tension in the industry right now as a result of the competing interests. Airport operators are doing what they can to try to increase fees, but in many cases they have been stepping them up rather gradually in comparison to the actual impact that TNCs have had in their market.”


SFO was among the first in North America to permit the locally based TNCs into their ground transportation marketplace where Cheong said Silicon Valley’s Uber, Lyft and Wingz have been experiencing explosive growth since Fall 2014.

“(TNCs) have pretty much taken over the bulk of our commercial ground transportation,” Cheong said, noting that the ride hailing services now constitute the largest group of commercial operators at SFO and are expected to soon take over private vehicles. “They have impacted just about everything. You can’t say they just took taxi customers or share-ride van customers. They took parking customers, too.”

Cheong explained that in some respects, revenues have increased when fares have been generated in lieu of a private transfer. Passengers who may have previously opted to take a private car to the airport, or had a family friend or someone drop them off are now generating a trip fee with TNCs. Alternatively, Cheong said SFO is starting to see the first signs of reduced parking entries and exits, too.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of talk,” Cheong said, calling this quandary the ‘million dollar question going forward’. “The new hubbub is how TNCs are impacting airport revenue streams, especially in the parking and rental car sections. Everybody is going to try to figure out ways to recover from that.”

Denver’s Heck said that despite passenger growth, parking revenues have stagnated around $170 million over the course of the past three years.

“Even after traffic has grown in high single digits, parking has remained flat,” Heck said, “So what that tells you is that the yield with the dollars per passenger are starting to come down from parking… You can’t 100 percent blame that on TNCs, but I think that is a big part of it.”

Cheong and Heck are among airport personnel working projections and starting to have conversations about how to offset such notable reductions. “Several airports are now looking at alternative fees, alternative business arrangements, and other methods or other revenue models in order to make sure they maintain their non-airline revenues,” InterVISTAS’ Mandle said, noting the importance of maintaining the airport infrastructure, supporting capital investments and providing an optimal customer experience. “I would say everything is on the table as we are at that infancy right at the initial stages in terms of what airports are doing.

They are exploring all sorts of options.”

According to LeighFisher’s Snowden, underlying business models and fee structures need to be revisited.

As he explains, a number of airports applied similar rates that taxis and limos had been assigned to the TNCs without considering the potential impact of TNCs.

“A couple of years ago, airports would have just used their normal ground transportation rates and fees and applied them to TNCs when TNCs entered the market,” Snowden explained of the reactionary measure to the initial disruption of the market.

“At the time, a lot of airports hadn’t really done a full cost recovery or ground transportation rate settings study to evaluate what the rates should be in light of TNC impacts.”


As airport rideshare usage continues its upward trajectory, the initial impacts of the TNC evolution are noticeable – by airports, by businesses and by individuals. “TNCs give passengers a lot of choices they didn’t have in the past,” explained Snowden.

For airports, more research is being done on the financial side, especially the rates for parking, rental cars and other forms of ground transportation that have been impacted by TNCs. “A few years ago, the median pick-up/drop-off fee for airport access would have been in the $2 to $3 range at large hub airports,” Snowden said. “Today, the median is in the $4 to $5 range and we expect it to continue increasing as airports reevaluate their business model and fee structures in light of TNC impacts.”

SFO’s Cheong said San Francisco has had a good track record in terms of rising concessions and ground transportation revenues while keeping the rate basis for the carriers down. But the airport is seeking innovative and fair ways to charge new entrants for access to the airport.

“I think we all just have to understand that this is more of a revolution,” SFO’s Cheong said, citing the constant need for airports to adapt and change. “With the TNCs themselves, it helped us to understand what their business model was and how they could fit in to how we do business here. But I think in the future, airports are going to have to look toward restructuring how we are doing our finances and our revenue generation if we expect to continue the way we have been.” “ACI-NA is helping to facilitate those conversations”, said Aneil Patel, ACI-NA’s Senior Director of Air Policy.

“Our Operations and Related Airport Revenues Working Group helps member airports exchange new information and ideas to address the evolving TNC challenge.”


The CBP has determined that facial recognition biometric exit technology is a viable solution to managing the entrance and exit of travelers coming through U.S. airports. The technology is provided by the Department of Homeland Security through its office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM). The system, dubbed IDENT, currently processes some 300,000 biometric transactions each day. The pilot programs launched at some airports over the past year will allow the CBP to determine how well it works with various flights, airports, lighting conditions and internal IT configurations and whether it is flexible, reliable and easy for travelers to use.

Chicago O’Hare International Airport

The technology is being used for unspecified select flights from Chicago since July 2017.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport

Testing on facial recognition technology started in June 2017 on a single daily flight between the United States and Tokyo.

Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Initial airport testing of facial biometrics began in Atlanta in June 2016 to determine how well the technology would work with existing IT systems.

William P. Hobby Airport

The technology was unveiled in August 2017 for use on select flights from the airport.

John F. Kennedy International Airport

A 30-day testing program began in October 2017 using the technology at an unspecified TSA security checkpoint.

Los Angeles World Airports

Three self-service biometric boarding gates use facial recognition technology to get passengers on board international British Airways flights at LAX.

McCarran International Airport

The technology was deployed in August 2017 for a single daily flight from the US to Guadalajara, Mex.

Miami International Airport

The technology started being tested on an unspecified flight from Miami in October 2017.

Washington Dulles International Airport

In June 2017, the airport introduced facial recognition biometric exit technology for a daily flight from the United States to Dubai.

IATA Eyes a Future with One ID

Imagine a day when a passenger could present a single form of ID that would ensure a smooth path through the airport at the very start of his or her journey through the boarding process.

That’s exactly what International Air Transport Association (IATA) has in mind with its concept, ONE ID that would enable a secure, seamless and “frictionless” process allowing them to walk through the airport “without breaking stride.”

IATA confirmed through its 2017 Global Passenger survey that passengers want more automation of airport processes. They would like a single identity token that would be used through all processes, real time information sent to the personal devices and more efficient security without removing or unpacking personal items. Some 82 percent said they would like to be able to use a digital passport on their smart phones for as many travel activities as possible. To meet such a goal, there will have to be close collaboration between various industry and government stakeholders for a solution that applies horizontally across the end to end passenger experience, according to IATA’s Guido Peetermans, Head of Passenger Security. “All stakeholders will benefit from a coordinated approach through improved productivity, increased capacity and cost savings as well as improvements in border, aviation and airport infrastructure security.”

Peetersmans noted that ONE ID does not favor one particular form of biometrics. “While facial recognition may be the most pragmatic choice in many environments, other jurisdictions or stakeholders may prefer other biometrics such as fingerprint or iris for technical, operational or cultural reasons.”

A major barrier to implementing a collaborative identity management solution is to establish trust and collaboration between stakeholders, Peetermans said. “Today, individual stakeholders take steps to ensure their own obligations are met, but with little or no coordination between them. We will need to break these silos and get stakeholders to collaborate towards a solution that would apply horizontally across the whole process.”

Peetermans said that an upfront investment in the new technology required for biometric recognition is required but it is increasingly mature and moving forward at a rapid pace.

“We don’t believe that the installation and integration of the technology components are going to be the bottleneck as is evidenced by various pilot projects that are underway at leading airports around the globe.”

Facing the Future: New Biometric Technology Programs Being Tested Nationwide

By Sandra Arnoult

Sweeping changes may come over the next four years as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection rolls out the installation of new biometric technology in U.S. airports based on facial recognition. Over the past year, a number of airports have kicked off pilot programs to test the new technology with a designated, limited number of flights and destinations.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) first established biometric screening procedures based on digital fingerprints for certain non-U.S. citizens in 2004, after Congress required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop a biometric entry/exit system. The goal was to secure U.S. borders and verify travelers’ identities. In 2013, when Congress transferred the entry/exit policy and operations to CBP, the border security initiatives continued.

One of the most recent technologies relates to biometrics – metrics related to human characteristics. In this case, it is facial-recognition technology and it is being used to help verify travelers’ identities and match them to the documents they present.

Using a flight manifest, CBP develops a flight-specific photo gallery using photos from the passenger that were provided to the airline.

The live photo is compared to the document photo to ensure it matches the original documents. If the photo captured at boarding confirms the passenger as a U.S. citizen, it’s not used for biometric exit purposes and is discarded briefly afterward.

It’s critical that any process does not slow down or impede the flow of passengers or limit the number of flights, said Dan Tanciar, deputy executive for entry/exit transportation at CBP. The economic impact of the process on the airlines and the airport has to be taken into account in any process, he added.

Tanciar pointed out that the 2016 appropriation for DHS included up to $1 billion over a 10-year period to implement a biometric entry and exit program. The cost to implement the program “remains a concern among stakeholders” and issues of policy and training still need to be resolved.

Tanciar acknowledged, “CBP is committed to continue to work with stakeholders to resolve the details associated with implementation.”

U.S. citizens who balk at the idea of having a photo taken can opt for a physical inspection of their documents, which will take more time but would address their concerns about privacy, he said.

Early indications from airports and officials at CBP and the DHS are that programs, which are limited thus far, may be an important tool in establishing the validity of the technology.

“Matt Cornelius, ACI-NA Vice President of Air Policy, agrees. “Over the last year, ACI-NA has been working closely with CBP, Airlines for America, IATA and the individual airlines to ensure that the program is not only effective but does not disrupt airport operations.”

But in late December, two U.S. Senators raised a red flag, asking DHS to stop expanding the program and provide Congress with its explicit statutory authority to use and expand it.

“We ask that DHS address accuracy concerns and potential flaws before broadening the practice,” wrote U.S. Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a letter to DHS on Dec.

21, 2017. They also expressed concerns about whether the data collection will “unduly burden” travelers of certain races or genders.

In addition, they said, “While Congress has repeatedly voted to authorize biometric entry/exit scanning of foreign nationals, it has never authorized biometric exit scanning

for U.S. citizens. In fact, Congress has pointedly neglected to authorize DHS to use the program on U.S. citizens for any purpose.”

Tanciar is confident that their concerns will be adequately addressed because of the way the system is being developed and used.


Privacy is a concern for passengers, said Guido Peetermans, head of IATA Passenger Security. Any system should be designed to ensure that access to passenger data is on a “need to know” and “authorized basis.”

“A privacy impact analysis, sound quality assurance and compliance monitoring need to be in place to maintain the traveling public’s trust in such a system,” Peetermans said.

“The biggest challenge in every implementation project we have seen is to establish trust and collaboration between the various industry and government stakeholders, break the silos, and redesign the process with the passenger in the center.”

Tanciar said that he believes CBP is already in line with privacy protections.

“I think we have done an honest-to-goodness good faith effort to bake all of this into the process.”


Pilot programs at select U.S. airports have been in effect for nearly a year and, thus far, the passenger response has been positive, say a number of airports officials.

“Up to this point, things are progressing very well,” said Dan Agostino, assistant director of operations at Miami International Airport. “On the entry side, we are processing two international flights per day with hopes to increase to three flights per day.”

He said he sees it as a “viable program” and that very few people have opted out of the facial ID. They are considering testing the technology for check-in at common use kiosks.

“I think the major hurdle, other than privacy, is to have both CBP and TSA aligned as to the use of this technology,” Agostino said.

“Customer response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue executive vice president, customer experience. “More than 90% of customers have opted-in to self-board. Self-boarding also saves time for our crewmembers who no longer have to do manual passport inspections during the boarding process.”

JetBlue teamed with SITA to pilot a biometric boarding process at Boston Logan International Airport in June 2017. SITA provides passenger processing technology to more than 165 airlines that serve 100 million passengers each year. It also provides border management technology to more than 40 governments across the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“Our trial was the first effort between an airline and CBP to use biometrics and facial recognition technology in the boarding process,” Geraghty explained. “We launched with our Boston to Aruba flights to test this among a vacation leisure market and customers who travel frequently and are technology-savvy.” The process was subsequently extended to flights from Boston to Santiago, Dominican Republic, which are primarily leisure or family trips.

She said JetBlue continues to review the program and will work with CBP for a “long term biometric roadmap.”

Sean Farrell, SITA portfolio director, strategy and partnerships, demonstrates how a technology provider can bring together all stake holders – airlines, airports and government agencies – to improve identity checks and improve processing times.

“We continue to work with other U.S. airlines and airports to see how we can introduce this technology at other passenger touch points,” said Farrell. “Looking more globally, over the past 18 months we have worked tirelessly to develop our end-to-end suite of self-service solutions for passengers –we call it Smart Path™. [It] allows passengers to move through the airport and board the aircraft by presenting a single digital token, created by capturing a passenger’s biometric details at the first step in the journey.”

British Airways has partnered with Los Angeles International Airport to run test trials on a self-service biometric boarding gate from Vision-Box. The passenger approaches the gate where a camera snaps a photo.

When the photo is verified against the photo taken as part of the process, the gate automatically opens and the passenger moves through eliminating the need to supply boarding documents or a passport.

“People are very excited about using this new technology,” said Justin Erbacci, chief innovation and technology officer for Los Angeles World Airports. “They are eager to go through the gates. It’s optional. No one has to go through. If someone feels it is obtrusive, they can go through the traditional boarding process.”

Bringing in the equipment was a bit of a hurdle, he said. “We had to bring the gates themselves [because] automated boarding lanes are new to the airport – getting the infrastructure in place and getting airlines to use it.”

The gates are stationed in the international terminal and can be moved, he said. “Other airlines are starting to use the automated boarding gates. We are in the process of adjusting their system. We believe it makes sense to board planes much faster than the traditional method of boarding.”

The technology also has to be integrated with existing common use equipment in the international terminals, he said.

Erbacci said he believes facial recognition is the direction they are heading, rather than voice, fingerprint or iris recognition. “We aren’t looking at that right now. Functionality now involves the use of the face.”

Farrell agreed. “We expect that face will dominate going forward – particularly at airports, where the major focus will be to continue to leverage the face data in ePassports to improve the passenger experience and security.” Other modalities – such as iris or fingerprints may have advantages, but they also have drawbacks such as privacy concerns, the cost of fingerprint technology and the lack of an existing database, he said.

“We believe biometrics are the future of passenger processing,” said Erbacci. “For us, it’s very important to be part of this.” Thus far the initial cost of the gates at LAX are not covered by CBP but through different airport resources, said Erbacci.

“We would recommend this to other airports and airlines,” said JetBlue’s Geraghty. “Our goal is for a personal, helpful and simple experience. Implementing biometrics has allowed us to innovate the airport travel experience and reduce friction points for our customer by making the boarding process simpler.”