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LAX apologizes for ‘unacceptable’ long waits for Uber and Lyft pickups

LAX
Tempers ran high as travelers encountered heavy traffic on the way to the new pickup area and wait times for Uber and Lyft that often exceeded an hour.
(Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

Los Angeles International Airport officials apologized late Tuesday night for an “unacceptable level of service” after travelers using the new Uber, Lyft and taxi pickup system faced gridlock, packed shuttle buses and long wait times for rides.

Tempers ran high as travelers encountered heavy traffic on the way to the new pickup area and wait times for Uber and Lyft that often exceeded an hour. Some travelers said it took them longer to find a ride home than it did to fly to Los Angeles.

“We really, really apologize for people who got caught in that,” said Michael Christensen, LAX’s deputy executive director of operations and maintenance. The new system began operation Tuesday.

Under the new system, travelers must board a shuttle or walk to the new pickup area east of Terminal 1 to get a taxi or be matched with an Uber or Lyft driver.

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About 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, after a relatively quiet morning, Christensen said, the airport saw “levels that started stressing the system” on the shuttles to the pickup area and in the lot itself, which is called LAXit (pronounced “L.A. Exit”).

The congestion was caused by a number of issues, he said, including a high volume of travelers and confusion on the part of Uber and Lyft drivers who had not used the new pickup system. Some private drivers also accidentally wound up in the lot, causing congestion, he said.

Uber and Lyft had some issues, too, Christensen said, including early problems with efficiently matching riders with drivers. The companies also activated surge prices, temporarily raising their rates, to address a shortage of drivers, many of whom work for both companies. Some Uber drivers switched to Lyft once they were already in the lot, and vice versa, he said, creating more congestion.

Overnight, LAX made changes to road striping, signage, traffic routes and assignments for traffic officers, Christensen said, with more changes planned later this week.

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Uber and Lyft are also working to make adjustments, he said, including sending clearer communications to drivers about what to expect at the airport.

An Uber spokesman said the company was “working with LAX to resolve some of the early issues for riders.” A Lyft spokeswoman said the company has “an experienced team on the ground making real-time adjustments to improve our operations for both riders and drivers.”

A bright spot of Tuesday was taxi ridership, the airport said. Taxi drivers did better business on Tuesday than they typically do on Sunday, the busiest day of the week, said spokeswoman Becca Doten.

“In some respects, they kind of saved the day, because they put a lot of units in and were moving a lot of people,” Christensen said.

Airport officials have banned Uber, Lyft and taxi pickups from the curb in an effort to address the infamous congestion in the horseshoe-shaped terminal roadway.

The move was necessary, the airport said, because an increase in passenger travel and two major construction projects — an overhaul of the aging airport, and the construction of an airport train — will cause significant curb and lane closures.

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