At many airports, curbside pickup is moving away from the curb.
On Oct. 29, Los Angeles International Airport joins the growing list of airports where curbside traffic has gotten so bad that taxis and ride-hailing services such as Uber to Lyft are no longer permitted to pick up at passengers at the curb.
“We have heard from our guests that the current system with ride pickups can be frustrating,” Keith Wilschetz said in a statement. Wilschetz is deputy executive director for operations and emergency management at Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX.
“Frustrating” is a polite way of describing how excruciating and time-consuming using a ride-hailing service at LAX can be. During peak times, app users now often spend upwards of 45 minutes to an hour between waiting for their ride to arrive curbside and sitting in traffic to get out of the Central Terminal Area.
At LAX, bad curbside traffic is about to get worse as the airport construction associated with terminal redevelopment and the new automated people mover begins.
“We will be losing more than 30% of our curb front, so doing nothing is not an option,” LAX spokesman Heath Montgomery said.
The solution at LAX is to move the pickup area for both taxi and ride app users away from the terminal curbsides entirely to a new area, dubbed “LAX-it,” just east of Terminal 1.
Passengers will be able to walk to the new pickup area from some of the terminals, and a shuttle will pick up passengers at all terminals in a dedicated lane on the lower/arrivals level lane.
LAX officials say getting from the airport to the pickup lot should be no more than 15 minutes (from most terminals), and exiting the terminal should be faster because drivers no longer must battle backups in the Central Terminal Area.
Once it rolls out at the end of the month, the LAX-it system will no doubt need some tweaks.
For now, some passengers are worried the new system will be confusing and pickup time will be no shorter than it is now. In a statement, Lyft said it looks forward to working with LAX on providing “the best possible pickup and drop-off experience for all users,” but Uber outlined its long list of concerns with the plan in a letter to airport officials.
How do other airports tackle curbside congestion?
Uber and Lyft both have sections of their websites dedicated to helping riders and drivers navigate the complexities of airport pickups. Here’s how some major airports have worked to make the process easier while addressing issues of curbside congestion:
Seattle: In 2016, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport worked with ride-hailing app providers to move pickups inside the airport parking garage, adjacent to space already set aside for other commercial ground transportation operators.
“We have since made traffic flow process improvements,” SEA spokeswoman Kate Hudson said. “We’re lucky in Washington state that cars must have front and rear license plates as it allows passengers to locate their vehicle from both angles.”
The Port of Seattle staffs the ride-hailing pickup area and contracts for additional ambassadors during peak times.
San Francisco: With a goal of diverting at least 45% of ride-hailing pic-up activity away from the terminal roadways, in summer 2018 San Francisco International Airport relocated pickups for Uber Pool, Express Pool and Lyft’s shared categories to the domestic parking garage. And in March, Uber X and Lyft offered their customers the option to be picked up in the Airport’s Domestic Hourly Garage at $3 less than the curbside rate.
“To date, these measures have only shifted about 21% of [ride-hailed] pickup activity off the terminal roadways, falling short of the 45% diversion rate,” said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel, so as of June 5, SFO relocated all domestic terminal pickups for ride-hailing apps, including Uber, Lyft and Wingz, from the curbside to the domestic hourly parking garage.
Austin, Texas: In mid-November, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport moved the pickup area for all taxis and ride-hailing companies to the ground level of the airport’s rental car facility.
“In the new space, dedicated taxi lanes are to the immediate left, while three ride share pickup lanes are on the right,” AUS spokesman Bryce Dubee said. “The three ride share lanes are color-coded in blue, red and yellow with corresponding numbers 1-4 so that both passengers and drivers have a specific spot to meet up.”
The overall walking distance is about 750 feet, so before the switch was made, the airport purchased four ADA-compliant 12-passenger electric shuttles to provide transport between lower-level locations and also leased an electric autonomous vehicle to transport passengers on the upper level of the garage.
Boston: At the end of this month Boston Logan International Airport will move both pickups and drop-offs for app ride passengers to new dedicated curb areas.
“The new areas – conveniently located in the Central Parking – will be protected from the weather, brightly lit and connected to all terminals via moving walkways,” BOS spokeswoman Samantha Decker said. “The new areas will also provide all the services passengers expect, including luggage carts, wheelchair services and bag-check service.”
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