Partnerships

Customer experience takes flight: Uber’s partnership with Maine’s Portland International Jetport

December 12, 2019 / US

For travelers, summertime in Maine conjures images of sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, and overstuffed lobster rolls. For Paul Bradbury, Director of the Portland International Jetport (PWM), summer also brings busy terminal roadways and long lines of travelers rushing through the state’s busiest airport.

“We have had an extraordinary run in the past few years as capacity and passenger counts have increased significantly,” says Bradbury, who has been at the airport for more than 20 years. “But that growth has brought other challenges, especially since we are an airport with a very land-constrained campus.”

Decongesting ground transportation at PWM

Facing a growing need to address congestion, Bradbury recognized that the airport would have to take a new approach to ground transportation. One of the first places he turned was to Uber to learn what technology solutions might be available. At the time, the terminal lacked signage for TNC riders, the airport lacked a designated driver waiting lot, and a state law limited the airport’s ability to oversee app-based transportation operations.

Setting goals and solving problems

Working in partnership, Uber and PWM set joint goals and collaborated on solutions that would help improve the experience at the airport. The airport made operational enhancements including designating a waiting lot (after analyzing location and size), selecting convenient pickup locations, and installing industry-standard signage. Uber rolled out features in the app that more efficiently match riders to drivers.

“This has been a win-win,” Bradbury reflects. “By working together toward the mutual objective of happy customers, we have improved the passenger experience while addressing congestion. The last place passengers want to be when they land is at the airport, so we set out to build a system which is as efficient as possible.”

Since instituting the operational and technology changes, the airport has reported improvements to traffic conditions and Uber has helped create an improved rider experience by reducing wait times and improving matching reliability in the app.

Uber’s commitment to long-term partnerships

Recognizing the growing importance of relationship-building, Uber launched a dedicated airport partnerships team in early 2019. The team includes experts focused on business development, legal, analytics, traffic management, and partnership management issues who work to improve the experience at the airport through the app.

“One of the challenges of the aviation space is that airports are capital-intensive and must plan over lengthy time horizons,” says Quinn Hatoff, Uber’s partner manager for PWM. “However, that long-term approach to business also provides a real opportunity to build deep connections and propose solutions that meet airport needs.”

Looking back over the past two years of engagement, Uber and the Portland Jetport agree that several of the lessons learned from working together center on engaging early and often, setting shared goals, communicating frequently, and listening to feedback from drivers and riders.

“Airports are looking for long-term relationships, and we need business partners,” Bradbury says. “When I shared with Uber what problems we were trying to solve as an airport, Uber recognized they are trying to solve the same problems, trying to get to the same place.”

Working together at the state level

The efforts at PWM also demonstrate the power of decision-making that doesn’t pick winners or losers in the ground transportation market. Before this year, Maine state law preempted the airport’s ability to oversee those operations, but Uber and airport leadership aligned to advocate for a new approach. The resulting state law grants large airports the right to regulate operations and apply reasonable, equitable fees on pickups.

“Going to the legislature, we needed to look at everybody the same for ground transportation,” says Bradbury. “There was a recognition that legislation should not place an undue burden on any one party.”

Uber and airports around the country share the goal of creating the best possible user experience while ensuring safe, efficient, and convenient ground transportation options. As PWM exemplifies, challenges large and small can be overcome when both sides recognize that Uber users and airport passengers are one and the same.

The Uber Airports team loves tackling tough challenges and working in partnership to achieve operational goals. For more information, reach out to us at us-airports@uber.com or canada-airports@uber.com.