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Uber says LAX’s new pickup system could cause long waits and traffic jams

Starting Oct. 29, shuttle buses will carry LAX passengers to a new pickup area, just east of Terminal 1, to summon an Uber or Lyft.
Starting Oct. 29, shuttle buses will carry LAX passengers to a new pickup area, just east of Terminal 1, to summon an Uber or Lyft.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Uber has warned Los Angeles International Airport officials that travelers could face traffic jams and long waits for rides when a new pickup system for Uber and Lyft begins later this month.

Starting Oct. 29, LAX will ban Uber, Lyft and taxi pickups from the curb in an attempt to address worsening traffic. Travelers will board a shuttle or walk to a parking lot next to Terminal 1 to catch a ride.

In a letter to the city agency that runs LAX, Uber’s security team said it was concerned that the system would not have a test run before the formal launch date. Similar changes this summer at the San Francisco airport sparked weeks of chaos.

Uber’s letter to Los Angeles International Airport about the new pickup system for Uber, Lyft and taxis.

LAX estimates that travelers will be out of the airport within 25 to 30 minutes of leaving the terminal. Right now, summoning a car, meeting the driver at the curb and getting out of traffic jams in the horseshoe can take an hour.

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Airport officials have converted the western half of a parking lot next to Terminal 1 into a plaza with bathrooms, seating and shade umbrellas. The pickup area will have free Wi-Fi, food trucks and cellphone charging stations.

The pickup lot will have 37 assigned spaces for Uber, which is not enough to satisfy rider demand, the company said in the Oct. 2 letter. Drivers for Uber pick up an average of 500 riders per hour at LAX, and during the busiest parts of the week, that number more than doubles, the company said.

“Without a significant expansion of the lot, we expect the level of service to be poor,” the Uber letter said. The expansion would need to include at least twice as much space, the company said, with more space for pickups, more curb area for passengers to wait, and more road capacity for cars to enter and exit.

The five loading bays where drivers will pick up riders will narrow to two exit lanes, which could “cause a bottleneck, risking gridlock during peak periods,” Uber wrote. That problem could be “further compounded” by shuttle buses to the terminals that will pass by every 45 seconds or so, the company said.

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If the pickup area is not able to handle all the pickup requests, Uber said, the airport should consider moving some pickups back to the curbside “as a quick solution to relieve pressure on the lot.”

Airport officials said they have done “extensive traffic modeling” and are confident that the pickup area will have enough capacity to satisfy rider demand, spokeswoman Becca Doten said in an email.

Traffic officers will be on duty 24 hours per day to direct the flow of vehicles, the airport said. Employees will be on hand to answer questions, load luggage into shuttles and help passengers find their rides.

The airport has been “working collaboratively with Uber and our other stakeholders for many months” on the design and operation of the pickup area, she said.

The lanes closest to the terminal on the arrivals level will be converted to bus-only, designed to speed travel times for the shuttles.

The bright green buses are supposed to arrive every three to five minutes, and will make a maximum of two stops before going to the pickup lot.

Those changes, combined with free and frequent shuttle service, will provide an “efficient and reliable experience,” Doten said.

Uber officials toured the waiting area last month and came away concerned that the design provided “insufficient covering from sunlight, heat and rain” for hundreds of people who could be waiting for rides, they said.

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The changes could lead to “unintended consequences,” Uber said, including passengers circumventing the pickup lot by walking to nearby streets or hotels to call rides. The sidewalks out of the airport aren’t wide enough to accommodate a “large volume of riders seeking alternate pickup points,” the letter said.

An Uber spokesman declined to say whether the airport had made any changes as a result of the company’s concerns but said the company and LAX “continue to work collaboratively together.”


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