Curbside taxi and ride-hailing pickups in the Los Angeles International Airport terminal area officially ended Tuesday, earning some positive reviews from travelers, condemnation from taxi drivers and praise from airport officials who said traffic is already improving on the famously clogged LAX horseshoe.
Beginning at 3 a.m., passengers looking to take a taxi or Lyft/Uber ride from the airport were required to walk or take a shuttle bus to a remote pickup lot just east of Terminal 1. Airport officials said moving such pickups was essential due to ever-increasing congestion in the terminal area.
But taxi drivers blasted the move, saying the elimination of curbside pickups would be the death knell for an industry already struggling to compete with the app-based ride-hailing services.
When the new system took effect, bright green buses began circulating through the terminal area in a dedicated traffic lane, carrying passengers to the remote lot dubbed LAX-it. The lot, equipped with amenities such as restrooms, phone-charging stations and free Wi-Fi, has pickup lanes for taxis and ride-hailing services.
Previously, taxi drivers could pick up passengers directly outside airport terminals on the LAX lower/arrivals level, while ride-hailing services did so at designated pickup spots on the upper level. Some passengers said they found the new system to be an improvement.
“You have people kind of weaving in and out constantly (in the terminal area), so it’s hard to spot your driver, have them merge over and then get out of the way,” traveler Nicole Gasten told ABC7. “It just was never that convenient.”
Yader Hernandez, another traveler, agreed.
“This feels a little bit better than usual, because Uber coming in, especially at night, it’s just so congested,” he told Channel 7. “So hopefully it helps the congestion.”
Some passengers complained on Twitter about long lines and crowds of people at the LAX-it lot, with one noting, “Not really what I want to see after 15 (hours) on a plane.” Another complained that it “takes 5x longer than just getting a ride from the airport.” Another said there was confusion in the terminal area about where the shuttle buses would be stopping.
Airport officials responded that there were still some “kinks to work out” in the system, and noted that representatives were on site speaking with travelers to gather feedback.
According to airport officials, the average wait time for a shuttle bus at the terminals was just three minutes, and the average travel time from the terminals to LAX-it was 10 minutes. By late morning, airport officials reported that average traffic speeds on the upper/departures level of the airport had increased to 13.5 mph, up from the typical 7.2 mph. The airport also reported improved travel times to the terminal area from surrounding freeways.
But taxi drivers continued to protest the move. The Taxi Workers Association of Los Angeles staged a rally near the airport, trying to raise awareness of what they said would be a devastating blow to their industry.
“… A large number of questions on the alternatives and the feasibility of the airport’s plan remain unanswered and clouded by incomplete and misleading information,” according to a statement from the association.
City Councilman Paul Koretz has been a staunch supporter of the taxi industry, and he introduced a motion Tuesday at City Hall calling for a resumption of terminal-curbside pickups for taxis.
“This new policy will be disruptive to passengers arriving at LAX expecting to be able to pick up a taxi curbside as they have always done and will further inconvenience the elderly passengers and passengers with disabilities,” Koretz wrote in his motion.
Koretz contends taxis make up a “small portion” of vehicle traffic in the terminal area, as ride-hailing companies continue to grow. He said LAX is the last place taxis can remain competitive in the transportation industry.
His motion will be heard by the council’s Trade, Travel and Tourism Committee.
The new system does not impact airport dropoffs by taxis or ride-hailing services at LAX terminals.
Airport officials said moving pickups out of the terminal area was necessary, because such services take up “scarce curb space during major construction at LAX.”
“Construction of the Automated People Mover train and stations is beginning in the Central Terminal Area, and LAX-it is needed to relieve the pressure of construction impacts that would make traffic unbearable if nothing were done,” said Keith Wilschetz, the deputy executive director for Operations and Emergency Management at Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that manages LAX. “The dedicated shuttle lane and clear walking paths mean guests will arrive at LAX-it and get on their way quickly and efficiently, and all other drivers using the terminal-area roads will benefit from the reduced vehicle traffic.”
Airport officials have said that given continued increases in ride-hailing and taxis in the terminal area means a typical summer day at the airport would soon have the same level of congestion as the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2017.
Due to the dedicated traffic lane now in place for the LAX-it shuttle buses, private vehicles on the lower/arrivals level no longer have access to the inner curb lanes, which are reserved for LAWA-operated shuttles and FlyAway buses. Private-vehicle pickup areas for arriving passengers are designated along the lower level outer commercial island, and they include number/level combinations on the columns to assist motorists in locating guests.