After falling behind during the pandemic, taxi drivers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are pushing back on trip fees officials at one point promised to waive.
The Port of Seattle is demanding that more than 100 drivers, many of them Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Punjabi, pay months’ worth of $6 trip fees the airport charges for each taxi ride.
Samson Seged, 46-year-old taxi driver from Eritrea, has been earning only a few hundred dollars a month during the pandemic, sometimes waiting hours to give just one traveler a ride.
“There was no money. But if you ask me how many hours I put in, exactly what I put in before the pandemic, you’re talking about 10 hours, 12 hours a day, times five days a week,” Seged said. “The pandemic was killing us.”
The Burien resident and father of three said although business has improved a little, he is still just scraping by. Before the pandemic, Seged made as much as $4,000 a month, enough to feed his family, he said.
Paul Zilly, a spokesperson for the union that represents the drivers, Teamsters Local Union No. 117, said the fees have added up to thousands of dollars for some drivers. The union is asking officials to use the millions of dollars in federal bailout money awarded to Sea-Tac Airport during the pandemic to cover the fees.
Port of Seattle officials say doing that would amount to an illegal use of public funds. The Port of Seattle says the drivers have from July until next fall to pay in full, though with a 1 percent interest charge.
“It's not making sense. We gave service during those hard days when everybody was scared of this virus,” Seged said.