Jim Halbrook

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will allow Uber to operate during SXSW

Just three days after Austin-Bergstrom International Airport officials said Uber drivers were banned from operating at the airport, city officials reversed the ban on a short-term basis that will include all of South By Southwest.

On March 10, Austin-Bergstrom officials announced Uber would not be allowed to operate on airport premises because the company had declined a profit-sharing agreement. The airport had offered a deal to Uber which would have allowed Uber drivers to operate on airport premises, but that also required that Uber give 10 percent of its gross revenue earned to the airport, airport spokesman Jim Halbrook said.

“We offered both Lyft and Uber the same deal,” Halbrook said. “Lyft accepted it, and Uber has declined.”

At the time, Halbrook said there was little chance Uber would be able to resolve the dispute before SXSW, when thousands of visitors fly in through Austin-Bergstrom to attend the event.

“If they come back with something, we could potentially continue to [negotiate],” Halbrook said to the Texan on Tuesday. “We’ve kind of got what we want and how we like to do it.”

Still, on Friday, city officials from the Department of Aviation said the airport had agreed to permit Uber drivers to operate — at least for a few weeks.

“The ridesharing companies have reached an agreement ... to operate at the airport for a temporary period, not to exceed 45 days, until a long-term agreement can be reached between parties,” city officials wrote in a press release.

Last year, more than 50,000 people from over 82 countries formally registered for SXSW, event planners said.

Cris Nevares, math and actuarial sciences senior, has been a Lyft driver since July 4. For Nevares, being a Lyft driver allows him to connect with interesting passengers while scheduling his own hours.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Days before the start of South By Southwest, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport officials said Uber will not be able to operate out of the airport during the festival next week.

Airport officials offered to form an agreement with two ride-hailing companies, Uber and Lyft, but Uber declined to accept, according to airport spokesman Jim Halbrook. 

“We offered both Lyft and Uber the same deal,” Halbrook said. “Lyft accepted it, and Uber has declined. I’m not in the negotiations, but what I am told from my business partners is they declined, and they didn’t give a reason.”

The agreement mandated the ride-hailing companies give 10 percent of their gross revenue to the airport, Halbrook said.

“That means, at a $25 fare, the airport gets $2.50,” Halbrook said. “The airport is a revenue generating facility. We generate our own revenue to pay for operating costs like water or electricity or road repairs and future improvements. When we build a new piece of terminal, we may get a grant, but we draw a lot out of our capital fund.”

All businesses working at the airport must have a formal agreement with the airport, according to Halbrook.

“Anybody doing business at the airport, whether they be a restaurant or ground transportation provider, has an agreement to do business at the airport,” Halbrook said. “That’s a city ordinance.”

Airport officials have previously worked with Uber and Lyft to reach an agreement about their services at the airport since the two ride-hailing companies were permitted to operate in Austin last October. The likelihood of Uber reaching an agreement in time to operate at the airport during SXSW is marginal, according to Halbrook.

“If they come back with something, we could potentially continue to [negotiate],” Halbrook said. “We’ve kind of got what we want and how we like to do it.”

Uber drivers may receive citations if they operate at the airport. Uber issued a statement Tuesday to say it is working to come to a solution.

“With service in 292 cities in 55 countries, visitors arriving at Austin Bergstrom [sic] International Airport expect to be able to request a ride from the airport using the Uber app,” the statement said. “We are currently working with the city on a solution to ensure the tens of thousands of visitors arriving in Austin for SXSW have access to an affordable, hassle-free ride after they touch down. We look forward to working together to resolve this issue in the immediate future.”

At Austin Water Utility, purple is a very important color because it indicates water conservation on their water valves. With the expansion of the Austin Water Reclamation Initiative, the city is about to see a lot more purple.

The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport became the newest commercial enterprise to adopt and implement the WRI on Monday. By using reclaimed water in its irrigation system, the airport will save 25 million gallons of drinking water and save approximately $70,000 a year, said ABIA spokesman Jim Halbrook.

Reclaimed water is treated wastewater that would normally go back into the Colorado River. With this new system, it can be used for irrigation, cooling towers, manufacturing and toilet flushing.

“[The Initiative] fits into the airport’s sustainability goals,” Halbrook said. “That includes lessening our environmental impact, operating in a financially responsible way and being a good member of the community.”

Mayfield said UT is set to adopt the WRI system next fall and replace drinking water with reclaimed water in the campus cooling towers, which pull the warm air from the buildings to cool them.

Halbrook said ABIA has been working with Austin Water Utility for over a year to bring the system to the airport, and so far public response has been positive.

The Austin City Council approved the WRI in 1990 as a plan to expand development of reclaimed water into a system that will meet current and future non-potable water demands, according to the City of Austin website. The WRI provides highly treated water from the Walnut Creek and South Austin Regional plants and saves approximately 1.2 billion gallons of drinking water a year.

Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell said the city’s commitment to the reclaimed water program is just another example of Austin’s dedication to responsible management of its water resources.

“Our reclaimed water program is part of our innovative solutions to address our current water needs while ensuring Austin has water for future generations,” Leffingwell said.

Jill Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Austin Water Utility, said the ABIA system, which gets its water from the South Austin plant, cost approximately $1.3 million. She said ABIA joins Frost Bank and local development company Mueller in this initiative.

With the current drought pushing water resources to the limit, reclaimed water can take over jobs like irrigation and toilet flushing that we use drinking water for, Mayfield said.

She also said reclaimed water is currently more commercial because installing the system in a home would mean having two separate systems, one for reclaimed and one for drinking, and that the city expands the project a bit every year.

“It’s one of those things we’re taking our time with to make sure we’re doing it right,” Mayfield said. “The engineers are working with backflow systems to make sure the drinking water doesn’t ever get mixed with the reclaimed water.” 

Printed on Tuesday, November 22, 2011 as: Austin to conserve funds by reclaiming, treating waste water