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Cab companies accuse Lambert of turning a 'blind eye' to UberX

Taxis sit in line for fares outside Terminal 2 at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

A sharp drop in taxi pickups at St. Louis Lambert International Airport has continued as newfound competition from the Uber and Lyft ride-hailing services becomes more entrenched.

Recently released statistics for the first three months of this year showed 32 percent fewer cab pickups at Lambert than in the same period in 2017 — a slide from 96,868 to 65,761.

That followed a drop of 19.5 percent last September, October and November from the total for the final three months of 2016.

However, the resulting decrease in Lambert’s take from cab fees — including a $95,238 decline from January through March — was more than offset by gains in revenue from parking lots, garages and car rentals. That also happened in the previous quarter.

The airport pulled in $11.5 million overall from parking, vehicle rentals, taxis and shuttle vans from January through March. That was up 1.2 percent from the previous year.

“We were thrilled to see that we’re continuing to still see those numbers grow,” Lambert’s director, Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, told the city Airport Commission last week.

If revenue from fees paid the airport by Uber and Lyft are added in, the overall ground transportation revenue increase for Lambert was even greater, she said.

However, airport officials refused to publicly discuss specifics about Uber and Lyft revenues. They also wouldn’t release the total ground revenue figures for the first three months that includes the ride-hailing figures.

They maintain that their agreements with Uber and Lyft require the airport to keep such data confidential. Uber and Lyft drivers were allowed to begin operating at Lambert last August under those permit and fee arrangements negotiated with the city.

Revenue to Lambert from parking lots and garages from January through March was up by 3.4 percent, while car rental fees increased by 2 percent.

One commission member, Alderman Marlene Davis, expressed concern about the taxi firms’ situation. “If they continue at this pace, they’ll be out of business,” she said.

She asked if there was any effort to help taxi drivers “reinvent themselves” to prepare for other lines of work. “To allow this to just keep going and not start now (with job training) would be criminal on our part,” Davis said.

Hamm-Niebruegge suggested that the city’s job training entity, the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, be contacted.

Cab firms weren’t the only losers in the new statistics. As in late 2017, passenger counts in shared-use vans that shuttle to hotels and other locations also dropped significantly.

The number of shuttle passengers was down nearly 45 percent from the first three months of last year, while revenue to Lambert from shuttle vans dropped 46 percent.

Hamm-Niebruegge said the shuttle service, GoBest Express, typically does its most robust business when large groups of people fly here for a big convention or something like the upcoming PGA golf championship. “They’re hoping to make up some of the shortfall” during the PGA event, she said.