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LAX bans Uber and Lyft from picking up passengers at the terminal

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LAX international lobby (wikimedia)

It’s about to get even harder to hail an Uber or Lyft at Los Angeles International Airport. Ride-hailing vehicles will be banned from making pickups outside LAX’s terminals under new rules announced by officials on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports. Instead, passengers wishing to get picked up by Uber or Lyft will have to take a shuttle to a parking lot next to Terminal 1.

It’s a new twist in the increasingly fraught relationship between airports and the app-based car service companies that have added to some of the confusion and congestion at most travel hubs. With more people flying than ever before and a growing share of those people expecting to use their smartphones to summon cars to pick them up, the traffic situation outside of airport terminals has reached a breaking point.

LAX is in the midst of a $14 billion revamp of its aging roads and terminals. Construction has led to some road closures, while airlines are adding routes leading to an increase in passenger pickups and drop-offs.

“We understand that trying to get into the central terminal area is a challenge and has been for a long time, and we’ve been working to make that much better,” Keith Wilschetz, deputy executive director of the Operations and Emergency Management Division at Los Angeles World Airports, told the LA Times. “This is a way we can do that.”

Passengers will have to wait three to five minutes for the shuttle to take them to the nearby parking lot, or they can walk, which should take 18 minutes at most, officials say.

Other airports have adopted similar tactics in recent years. San Francisco International Airport, for example, recently moved almost all ride-hailing passenger pickups to the top floor of the main parking garage. Some passengers said the change has made pickups more efficient, even though it involves a longer walk from the gate. Similar changes are expected to take place at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft have tweaked their apps for drivers in the hopes of making drop-offs and pickups more seamless. Both companies have added a feature called rematch that allows drivers who have just dropped off a passenger to pick up a new customer without leaving the airport and waiting in an off-site area.

To avoid situations where passengers are jockeying to find the right vehicle, both companies have experimented with giving their customers a code that they can give to any Uber or Lyft driver that’s waiting in a line, rather than searching for a specific vehicle — much like a traditional taxi line.

“We have been working closely with the Airport leadership regarding the impending infrastructure projects taking place at LAX,” a Lyft spokesperson said. “We look forward to continued collaboration on how to best reduce terminal congestion, lessen wait times for drivers and riders, and we are confident that we will be able to continue providing the best possible pick up and drop off experience for all Lyft users.

Uber was a bit more combative in its response. “While we have concerns with aspects of LAX’s plan to move all rideshare pickups to a staging lot, we have shared those concerns directly with LAWA and will continue operating at the airport,” the company said in a statement. “In the meantime, we hope LAX will listen to and incorporate our input so that so that LAX passengers can continue to access rideshare service in a seamless way.”

Updated October 4th, 12:40PM ET: Added a statement from Uber and Lyft.