Taxi drivers pack the Port of Seattle Commission meeting room at Sea-Tac Airport to demand change.
It was not nearly enough. That was the consensus of dozens of Teamster taxi drivers who testified at yesterday’s Port of Seattle Commission meeting about the Port’s plan to lower the per-trip rate drivers are paying.
Drivers have been forking over $7.00 to Eastside For Hire, the company that holds the Airport taxi contract, every time they pick up a passenger at the Airport. That amount was set to increase by $.50 at the beginning of October.
But after months of pressure from drivers and the community to improve conditions at the Airport, the Port stepped in to stop the increase and acted instead to decrease that amount to $6 per trip.
Drivers say it’s too little to make a difference. “Thank you for the reduction, but this does not solve the problem,” said Ali Sugule, who has been driving at the Airport for two years. “We need a voice at the negotiations table. We don’t want this contract going forward because it is hurting us.”
Airport taxi drivers have been calling out Eastside for months for multiple violations of its contract with the Port and point to a rigged system that enriches both Eastside and the Port at their expense.
“I’ve been in the United States for two years. I’ve never had to take government assistance until Eastside got the contract. I cannot support my family, I cannot pay the rent. We’ve almost become homeless,” said driver Ali Aden.
"I’ve never had to take government assistance until Eastside got the contract."
Aden, Sugule and other drivers are demanding that the Port cut out Eastside as the middleman and reduce driver fees to cover the Port’s cost of operation, which they say is approximately $2 per trip.
Drivers raised a number of other concerns at the meeting.
Many say Eastside is not remitting payments as required under its contract with the Port. Drivers pay Eastside $340 in advance each week based on the assumption that they will make 49 trips. Eastside is required to refund drivers who are making fewer trips. Many drivers say that’s simply not happening.
Drivers are also demanding a fix to the short-haul trips that end up costing them precious time and money.
With so many unresolved issues, drivers are fed up and demanding change now. “Please allow us to pay you directly and allow us to pay the cost of recovery,” said eight-year driver Suldan Mohamed as he addressed the Commission. “This company is profiting from us and we are barely making a living here.”