LOS ANGELES (CN) – When Los Angeles airport officials moved ride-hail and taxi pickups away from terminal curbsides, angry tweets from frustrated travelers exploded. Two weeks later, overall travel times have improved and the firestorm on Twitter has subsided.
Los Angeles International Airport officials opened the LAXit lot in late October to move taxis, Uber, Lyft and Opoli pickups away from the airport’s central terminal area – known locally as the horseshoe – to clear notoriously bad traffic.
With a host of long-term construction projects slated for the world’s fourth busiest airport – including a “People Mover” to connect public transit to airport terminals – LAX officials described LAXit as a vital move.
As part of the project, the lane closest to terminals is reserved for public transit buses and wheelchair-accessible shuttles that move travelers to the remote LAXit lot.
During the first week of the LAXit rollout, frustrated travelers complained about 45- to 60-minute waits times for shuttles to their ride-hail pickup lot.
A week later, LAX officials expanded the operation by 50% to alleviate prolonged wait times, especially during peak hours.
LAX spokesperson Heath Montgomery said in an interview that operations have smoothed out and that the removal of ride-hail drivers from the horseshoe has resulted in reduced travel times in the upper and lower terminals.
“The generic answer is that everyone else is moving quicker on average,” Montgomery said.
Traffic is a major problem in LA County and one that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, is looking to reduce through a potential congestion fee on county highways.
As part of a study on congestion pricing, Metro is also exploring a fee for trips on ride-hail apps like Uber and Lyft, which officials say could fund both public transit alternatives and free fares for riders.
Taxi drivers rally for their livelihood
Taxi drivers crowded a Los Angeles City Council committee meeting Nov. 5, urging officials to restore curbside taxi pickups at the airport.
Daniel Klein with Bell Cabs told the committee that taxi drivers have always been flexible during LAX construction but that their livelihoods are in serious risk as their number of airport pickups decline.
“LAX is the only place we make a living,” Klein said, noting Uber and Lyft have dominated the market in the county. “Some people invested $50,000 or more. We don’t have 401(k), this is our investment and if you take that away, you’re killing us. You’ll be adding to the homeless crisis. Take us back to terminal in contact with customers.”
LA City Councilman Paul Krekorian said at the hearing he supported seeing taxis perform curbside pickups and added that Uber and Lyft haven’t been transparent enough about their operation.
“I’m seeing an inefficient mode of transportation getting rich off our airport and seeing the tried and true mode of transit, taxis, getting shoved in this lot,” Krekorian said.
Deborah Flint, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that manages LA-area airports, told the committee she would study whether there is enough curb space to restore taxi pickups at the terminals.
Flint said that 13,000 cars have been removed from daily traffic in the horseshoe, a 30% reduction.
Representatives from Uber and Lyft did not attend the meeting and LA City Councilmember Joe Buscaino told the audience he was upset the ride-hail giants had not responded to his invitation.
Uber representatives did not respond to requests for comment for this story. Lyft spokesperson Lauren Alexander said the company has been working with LAX officials and will discuss LAXit with the City Council in the future.
“At the time, given the second operations change that was underway our leadership team was focused on ensuring we were ready to shift operations to the expanded lot space,” Alexander said in an email. “We are encouraged by the lot expansion and we are hopeful that changes will alleviate some of the challenges presented by the previous layout.”
Representatives from the black car service or limo industry did not attend the hearing. The pricier, commercial option has a dedicated pickup area at LAX and has been uninterrupted during the LAXit rollout.
LAX’s Montgomery said the black car service is not factored into LAXit plans since they are regulated differently by the state.
Taxis and black car services are a vital option for University of Southern California professor Lisa Schweitzer, a wheelchair user.
Schweitzer said in an interview that she is never certain ride-hail companies will send a car with enough trunk space for a folded wheelchair.
The private Flyaway shuttle has been promoted by LAX officials as a viable and cheaper alternative to taxi and ride-hail pickups but it isn’t wheelchair-accessible.
“This whole operation leaves me wondering what accommodations there are for people with disabilities,” said Schweitzer, who teaches at USC’s Price School of Public Policy. “Also, it’s really hard to imagine a world where Flyaway handles the volume of customers that pickup services do.”
An eye on the 2028 Olympics
Metro wants to see 28 transit projects built for the 2028 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games, which will be hosted in and around LA. The People Mover is part of the nearly $43 billion package.
Schweitzer says the Olympics may create a surge in infrastructure development, but it remains unclear whether the aggressive construction timeline will benefit the region’s transit goals.
“Building fast isn’t always the same as building well,” Schweitzer said. “I question how much benefit we get from accelerating the projects we’re accelerating.”