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NEWS Last modified on December 5, 2019

BLOG: The rideshare conundrum at US airports

Airports across the US are making big changes to handle growing congestion at the kerb with Boston Logan becoming the latest gateway to relocate Lyft and Uber drivers from roads around the terminals to a parking garage, writes Justin Rees.

It joins the likes of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco Interrnational Airport (SFO), which just made similar shifts earlier this year.

The bottom line is, airport infrastructure is already strained due to a steady increase in air travel that’s been on the rise since 2008, and an influx of rideshare vehicles on top of more travellers has become too much for airports to handle.

However, with change comes pushback. Inevitably, there’s been a lot of debate around whether rideshare bans and relocations actually benefit travellers. On the one hand, it will help reduce traffic congestion, but on the other, most travellers say it’s a major inconvenience.

Reducing rideshare service is certainly creating an opportunity to improve one of the most common pain points with airport travel: navigating the traffic and congestion associated with it. But these restrictions are only one piece of the puzzle.

Destigmatising the airport shuttle

Airport traffic has gotten progressively worse over the last decade, not only due to a record increase in air travel demand year after year, but also a universal shift to ride-sharing.

Within the last year, Uber and Lyft drivers in San Francisco took more than a million passengers a month to or from the airport, up from about 100,000 a month in 2014.

While airports across the country are increasingly restricting rideshare service to combat worsening congestion, they can’t stop there.

Airports need to provide reliable, sustainable alternatives that can close the gap that consumer-favourited transit services will leave behind after bans and restrictions are implemented. To do so, they should start by taking a page out of Uber’s book.
Lyft2
Both Uber and Lyft pride themselves on their ability to gather and analyse data to inform services and make predictions about everything from estimated arrivals, to high volume passenger zones, to where drivers should be located to increase ride requests. Airport operators have an opportunity to offer comparable service by being just as data-driven.

Airports like LAX are already leveraging partnerships with companies like Ride Systems to modernize the airport shuttle to reverse the common misconception that shuttles are unreliable and outdated.

By utilising external resources to make sure data advises service, airports can gain a comprehensive look at how transit service needs to adjust to accommodate traveler needs. This can help airport operators deliver Uber-like levels of personalised, streamlined service to travellers by providing back-end insight into data around how many riders they are serving a day, or how buses are at a given time.

Not only does this allow airports to align transit service with traveller patterns and preferences, this approach also helps them optimise routes and resources to increase efficiency.

Analysis of transit data can also identify areas that aren’t being served enough, helping airport operators effectively manage fleets and ensure travellers aren’t experiencing a lack of frequent and reliable service, or left stranded having to walk miles to a designated rideshare pick-up lot.

Ultimately, what attracts people to rideshare is the control it allows them over their travel experience. The convenience of being able to order a ride on-demand, track that ride, and anticipate arrival times all through an intuitive smartphone application is especially valuable for travellers who are tied to a schedule.
Uber1
But airport operators have an opportunity to provide that same level of convenience to travellers on their own, while also reducing traffic build-up caused by rideshare and single-passenger cars. By harnessing technology that powers typical shuttle service with features like GPS tracking, on-demand capabilities, and passenger-counting technology, airports can give travellers the same comfort and ease of access that an Uber would, but in a format that allows airports to better grasp traffic control.  

Reducing emissions at the airport and beyond

Limiting or restricting rideshare service is helping airports reduce congestion at the kerb, which inevitably helps them improve their carbon footprint as well. These rideshare policy shifts are a great first step to tackling congestion problems and reducing emissions, but to create sustainable change, airports need to go one step further.

We already discussed the opportunity these changes present for airports to modernise the airport shuttle, but the benefit of doing so extends far beyond the airport itself.

Transportation has become the single largest source of carbon emissions in the United States, with single-passenger cars contributing to half of the carbon dioxide emissions from the sector. Public transportation is the most sustainable transit alternative and is proven to have significant environmental impact.

In fact, switching a 20-mile commute from your vehicle to public transportation could lower your carbon footprint by 4,800 pounds annually.
ATL roads
While airports certainly benefit from equipping shuttles with smart transit technology from a customer-service perspective, doing so also helps them influence consumer behaviour outside of the airport. In proving that public transit options, like shuttles, can be just as efficient, reliable, and intuitive as rideshare, airports are contributing to a larger initiative to break car culture and encourage the use of public transportation at large.

Transit leaders know that to get people out of their cars, or in this case, appease frustrated travellers, they need to provide reliable alternatives. This is why companies like Ride Systems are pioneering the development of smart transit technology that aids the modernization of public transit, starting with the airport shuttle.

Airports across the country are sure to increasingly adopt these policy changes to reduce traffic congestion and streamline the travel experience. However, how they manage the gap that rideshare leaves behind will make all the difference in whether they succeed.

Airport leaders need to take advantage of this opportunity to close gaps in transit service with smart, sustainable, data-driven alternatives – not only to impact congestion at the curb, but in the cities they reside in.

• Justin Rees is CEO of Ford Mobility’s TransLoc, DoubleMap and Ride Systems.

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