Taxi drivers say Seattle-Tacoma International Airport needs to waive their fee

With the massive hits to airlines and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, taxi drivers in western Washington are among the thousands in our area struggling to find work. They say the Port of Seattle is not giving them the help they need to survive the economic setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sasha Nazari showed KIRO 7 the gloves, mask, and cleaning supplies in his taxi. They’re part of an attempt to make a living behind the wheel.

These days, he’s lucky if he gets a couple of trips a day.

“I had a trip from the airport to one of the hotels close to the airport and the customer gave me $7,” Nazari said. “Then I have to pay $6 to the airport, so I make $1. So I don’t know how I can support my family for $1.”

Taxis pay $6 per ride for every airport trip. But on March 24, when the pandemic shut down businesses and travel, the Port of Seattle’s executive director, Stephen Metruck, said in a special commission meeting: "I believe it’s important to ensure that we have drivers trained and ready to handle passengers as we recover. Thus, with your support, I plan to grant a three-month waiver of fees charged for each trip from the airport.”

The Port later said the director misspoke, clarifying in a letter that ride fees between March 25 and July 31 will be deferred but that they will need to be repaid over a course of months.

An airport spokesperson told KIRO 7 on Friday that getting rid of the fees completely would be a violation of state and federal law, and that they’re doing deferral for other airport vendors like restaurants that can’t pay their rent.

Nazari points to the $192 million that the airport received as part of the CARES Act.

And taxi drivers like Hussein Farah want the Port to find a way to give them a bigger break.

“It’s very tough,” Farah said. “No customers. I start sometime early, and I’m waiting seven to eight hours.”

He’s had some luck with unemployment benefits, but Sasha Nazari said he hasn’t.

“They pay me the money, and after two weeks, I got another letter,” Nazari said. “They told me you have to pay them back because my employer told them I am not looking for a job. I don’t have [an] employer. I’m self-employed.”

Nazari said he’s reaching out to the state employment system to get his case cleared up.

An airport spokesperson said they’re anticipating a $300 million shortfall this year, so the federal stimulus money does not give them excess funds.