Keep it Moving: New Technologies at the Airport Curbside
by Scott Gorenc
The disruptive impact that Transportation Network Companies and app-based rides have had on airport curbsides has been significant. While companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Wingz are becoming more commonplace, many airports have been caught off guard. Now they’re scrambling to catch up.
What’s the operational impact?
While TNCs provide more mobility opportunities to passengers, they also are causing an upheaval in a key part of the current airport business model. The shift to TNC rides has had an adverse effect on legacy taxicab and shuttle services, parking revenues, and traffic volumes at the curbside. More traffic means airports need more operations staff to monitor the same amount of curbside drop-off and pickup space.
While airports do charge access fees to app-based ride services, similar to how they’ve charged taxi companies in the past, the fluctuating mix of traffic means its not always safe to assume these “new” revenues will make up for lost taxi, shuttle, and parking revenue. And in the near term, adversely affected taxi and shuttle services are able to renegotiate concession rates from the airport.
What about the impact to airport infrastructure?
The typical airport curbside paradigm includes areas for private vehicles and commercial vehicles with the latter section split into segments for taxis, shuttle buses, public transit, and so on.
At some airports, TNCs drop off and pick up customers at the same location as private vehicles. Others are starting to require TNC drivers to pick up passengers at the commercial vehicle curbside. These locations need to be sized in such a way that they can accommodate the appropriate amount of TNC vehicles while cohabitating with legacy taxi companies, shuttle vans, and other services.
The demand for access to the curb frequently exceeds the actual capacity. Recognizing the increased demand for TNCs, airports are starting to designate alternate loading areas for TNC customers away from the curbside. Adjacent parking facilities, surface lots, and rental car facilities have all been converted to provide additional service for TNCs.
Additionally, most airports designate a specific area — such as an offsite parking lot or cellphone waiting lot — as the sole location that TNCs can stage prior to accepting a pickup. The idea is to reduce roadway congestion and prevent improper parking or waiting outside the terminal.
Accommodating the disruption
As TNC usage becomes more widespread, we have seen a reduction in “traditional” curbside modalities: taxis, private vehicle pickup, and shuttles for hotels or rental cars. Additionally, we have seen a reduction in garage usage. In many cases, the existing curbside capacity is exceeded, causing congestion to spill over into the roadways that feed them.
Airports must make adjustments to address the disruption. At LAX, for example, a ground transportation center is being built off site and passengers travel the last leg to the airport via Automated People Mover. In other cases, like at SFO, airports are converting unused, terminal-adjacent garage space into new pickup areas for TNCs. But converted garages can do more than provide extra curbside capacity — they can also enhance the experience for passengers.
First, these spaces can be designed in such a way that they minimize or even eliminate the need to cross roadways, increasing the safety for passengers. Second, the passenger pickup zones can be delineated and signed in such a way to spread out the curbside for drivers and make the pickup process simpler for both parties. Finally, since passengers are captive in this location prior to pick up, last minute grab-and-go retail opportunities could be made available to passengers while they wait. In addition to concessions revenue, advertising revenue could help supplant lost parking revenue.
- Existing garage layout
- Proposed layout
As TNCs continue to reduce the demand for on-site parking, rehabilitating the parking spaces and circulation patterns themselves is only the first step. To fully take advantage of the shift, airport garages should think in terms of the total real estate that could be reclaimed for new uses.
For example, portions of unused garages could be converted into concessions that better serve those passengers that are more likely to continue utilizing the garage. Business travelers could drop off dry cleaning that will be delivered to their cars upon arrival. Grab-and-go concessions could serve the vacationing family that needs to pick up some groceries before heading home from a late flight.
Eventually these small retail outlets could evolve into anchor tenants that not only serve the airport’s passenger population but also the surrounding area. Decks of parking could be carved away to make room for micro-hotels or overnight crew housing. Ultimately, the impact of TNCs could be the catalyst that helps many airports become more than just a place to catch a flight.