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New LAX pickup lot generates lots of complaints

LOS ANGELES — Airport officials told a City Council committee Nov. 5 they are encouraged by recent improvements to its ride-share and taxi pickup lot, but they acknowledged the switch to the remote lot has generated plenty of complaints and they will continue efforts to improve the system.

“We knew from other airports’ experiences that have moved ground transportation in response to major construction or to the evolution of the more intense ground transportation, that this was going to be complicated,” Deborah Flint, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that oversees Los Angeles International Airport, told the council’s Trade, Travel and Tourism Committee.

“Week one was a significant challenge for us,” she said. “We have made significant changes from learning, not just learning from [airport staff], but learning from [ride-hailing services] in how to navigate.”

The committee hearing was held about 12 hours before the LAX-it pickup lot was scheduled to increase in size by 50%. The expansion was scheduled to take effect at 3 a.m. Nov. 6 to give ride-hailing companies and taxis more space to operate.

Representatives from Uber and Lyft did not attend the committee meeting, which irked Councilman Joe Buscaino, who chairs the panel.

“Unfortunately, Uber and Lyft are not here, and we’ve been given some excuses from them … when we have an important problem to solve,” Buscaino said. “My door was always open to them, and I’m frustrated and disgusted and upset because we need the ride-share companies at the table to solve this problem.”

Airport officials said they were always prepared to expand the LAX-it lot in the event the original design was not suitable.

The LAX-it lot opened Oct. 29 to mixed reviews. Airport officials said they needed to move taxi, Uber and Lyft pickups out of the airport’s Central Terminal Area to relieve ever-growing congestion, which is further aggravated by long-range construction projects.

“We all know LAX is experiencing a $14-billion project, and a new concourse is being constructed in Thanksgiving-like gridlock on the Central Terminal Area,” Buscaino said. “It’s been quite a rocky start. Both drivers and passengers reported waits of an hour. But it’s only been a week … although a frustrating week. The goal is to reduce traffic.”

Committee members asked that LAX officials return after the Thanksgiving holiday to see how the expanded system has worked and give an update on wait times for passengers and drivers, as well as discuss any issues assisting people with disabilities and the elderly.

City Councilman Paul Krekorian said it might make more sense to have the ride-hailing companies operate solely outside the Central Terminal Area, while allowing taxis to resume curbside pickups.

“I don’t see how they should be treated in the same manner,” Krekorian said of taxis and ride-hails. “Why not move the (ride-hailing services) to the LAX-it lots and call it a day?”

LAX officials said they are studying that possibility to see how it would affect traffic on adjacent streets.

Councilman Paul Koretz said his chief of staff recently flew into LAX with an injured back. Koretz said there was no one to help her, and had she not been with her daughter, she probably would not have been able to get on the LAX-it shuttle, suggesting the system may be creating difficulty for seniors and people with disabilities.

Airport officials insisted they have had staff on the ground to help people get through the lot.

“We planned to make sure that there were people there,” Flint said.

LAX officials also said within the first few days, they’ve gained a stronger understanding of what they’ll need to do in the future to ensure the wait times are not excessive.

Councilman Mike Bonin noted that, according to LAX, 85% of wait times had decreased since the start of LAX-it Oct. 29, but he said he wanted to see that last 15% addressed.

Airport officials have been working to tweak the system since it opened, responding to complaints from some passengers about issues catching shuttles and then waiting in long lines at the LAX-it lot to pick up a taxi or ride-hail vehicle. Taxi drivers have complained about being forced away from terminal curbsides, saying the curbside service was the only advantage they had over the ride-hailing companies.

Airport officials insisted Nov. 4 that passengers are on average waiting three to five minutes at terminals to be picked up by a shuttle bus, with the trip to the lot taking 10 minutes or less. Airport officials also said passengers are seeing reduced wait times for their taxi/ride-hail rides, generally taking less than 10 minutes during non-peak hours.

But there have been complaints about the system during peak hours. Some riders have told reporters they had to wait sometimes more than an hour to get their ride, citing long lines of waiting passengers and vehicles trying to enter the lot.

When the lot expands in size, Lyft vehicles will be moved entirely into the expansion area, and Uber will add Lyft’s former space to its operating area, airport officials said. Taxis also will be given additional space “for passenger and car queuing,” airport officials said.

Airport officials said more signs will be added to “help guests find their ride,” and staff will continue to be stationed at the lot to help passengers find their way.

By ERIC HEINZ

City News Service