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Victim of Vans : Airlink Drops Out of LAX-Downtown Run

Times Staff Writer

Bleary-eyed travelers seeking a ride from Los Angeles International Airport apparently prefer convenience over price.

Airlink, the sole commercial bus operator providing service to downtown, has called it quits on the route--a victim of competition from airport vans that provide more convenient, but more expensive, door-to-door service.

Airlink buses discontinued service from LAX to downtown hotels last week, leaving the 19-mile route to taxis and airport van companies, said Mark Murphy, president of Anaheim-based Fun Bus Systems Inc., which operates Airlink. Airlink, however, will continue to serve its three remaining routes--LAX-Anaheim, LAX-Pasadena and LAX-John Wayne Airport, Murphy said.

“It wasn’t like nobody wanted our service. We carried 600 people a day (to downtown), but with the introduction of van service . . . we just couldn’t compete.” Part of the problem, he said, was the “wide dispersion” of destinations, meaning the half a dozen or so hotels to which Airlink’s bus passengers often needed to go.

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Murphy declined to say how much money his company lost on the downtown route or to disclose the overall annual revenue of privately held Fun Bus Systems. But the two largest van companies measure their success in the multimillions of dollars.

Annual revenue figures for SuperShuttle, whose blue and orange vans are common sights on the freeways, were not available Thursday, but the company estimated two years ago that it would take in more than $30 million in 1986.

Lux Transportation Systems Inc., a 16-year-old Santa Ana company and SuperShuttle’s chief rival, grossed about $8 million last year, said Edward Muncy, the general manager.

Since 1982, as the number of small six- to 12-passenger vans serving LAX has proliferated, bus ridership has dropped more than 48%. Today, about 25 privately operated van companies serve the airport, compared to just two in 1971, said Joseph Clair, manager of the Department of Airports office that grants permits to van, bus and limousine operators.

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“The number of vans now seems to be staying pretty constant,” Clair said. “For a while, we had a big shakeout.”

Transportation experts say travelers like the van service because it offers a compromise between taxis, which are faster but cost more, and buses, which are cheaper but slower. On the airport-to-downtown route, for example, Airlink charged $6.50, compared to $8 to $10 for van service and a flat cab fare of $26.50.

Although the new van companies’ fleets range from a few vehicles to more than 100, they all operate in much the same way: Vans pick up passengers by appointment at their homes or businesses (very much as taxis do), but, unlike taxis, vans may make one or two other stops to pick up additional passengers along the way. Travelers can hail vans, just as they do taxis, at designated points outside airline terminals.

Los Angeles is not the only city grappling with a flood of vans. Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco are among major airport cities reporting an increasing number of travelers using airport vans that promise door-to-door service at rates less than taxi fares.

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