[By Chris McGinnis]

San Francisco International Airport’s decision in June to move Uber, Lyft and Wingz domestic terminal pick-ups to a designated ride-hailing zone in the central garage served as a model for other U.S. airports to enact similar anti-gridlock tactics. Since then, similar moves have taken place at Los Angeles International and Boston Logan airports, and are under consideration at others.

But SFO has shifted some Uber pick-ups back to the domestic terminal curb in a two-month trial that will run through mid-January 2020.

Uber’s more expensive Comfort, Select and XL cars can now pick up customers at designated crubside spots around the SFO horseshoe. These higher-end options cost, on average, $10-$15 more than the standard UberX option that passengers still need to catch in the consolidated central parking garage area.

Traditional limousine and town car services as well as Uber and Lyft’s top end luxury car cars (Uber Black, LUX, XL) have always been allowed to pick-up at the curb.

Why the change?

The airport said the trial is aimed at bringing back a rematch feature that allowed ride-hailing drivers to drop-off and pick-up passengers without having to circle the airport and stage at a waiting zone for another fare. It also provides another pick-up option for travelers during the busy holiday travel period.

When Uber and Lyft argued against the big move to the domestic terminal garage pick-up zone earlier this year, both companies said eliminating rematch would lead to lengthier waits and increased traffic congestion because more cars would be shuttling back and forth between the terminals and staging lots.

“Our estimates were about 15-20 percent of that rematch was happening. Uber and Lyft would not share that data with us,” Airport Director Ivar Satero said to the airport commission last week. “It turns out it was more like 75 percent.”

SFO officials have set a goal of no less than 80 percent of curbside drop-offs and pick-ups be rematched to keep congestion around the horseshoe at bay, which has improved dramatically since ride-hailing pick-ups were moved to the central garage.

The trial period runs until mid-January and the airport will use data collected from the pilot to figure out a permanent change.

“We’re going to be very protective of the gains we’ve realized in traffic mitigation and curbside congestion,” Satero said. “But I think it would be a real win if we could also move those services back to the curbside for the more budget conscious travelers and also incentivize pooled and shared ride services.”

One idea the airport is weighing is moving UberPool, Lyft Shared and carpool-style ride-hailing products to curbside pick-ups, too according to Satero. However, there are no hard plans to do so, yet.

Customers opting for curbside pick-up

Uber said since the trial period began Nov. 20, the company has seen a significant percentage of its customers choosing a pricier curbside pick-up option over the central garage ride-hailing zone.

According to Uber, wait times have gone down and rematch rates have gone up. The company said time spent waiting for Uber Comfort rides — a higher-end product with newer model cars that come with extra-legroom seats — have dropped 40 percent since those cars were allowed to do curbside pick-ups.

Uber’s curbside rides represent no more than 10 percent of the company’s SFO pick-ups, according to airport spokesperson Doug Yakel.

Lyft is not taking part in the trial because they were not technologically prepared for it, according to Satero, but the company will be a part of the final changes once implemented.

“Currently, Lyft is proud to offer Lyft Lux Black and Lyft Lux Black XL curbside service at SFO,” a Lyft spokesperson said. “We remain committed to improving the user experience by implementing additional service features and policies in our quest to provide efficient and sustainable airport transportation service.”

Lyft is in talks with the airport to reactivate rematch as well as expand curbside pick-ups for other products, according to the company.

Priority Screening for BART riders

Meanwhile, the airport is moving ahead with a plan to incentivize travelers to ride BART to SFO by giving them access to priority security screening lanes by either late-January or early-February, according to Yakel.

BART’s ridership to SFO has dropped by double-digit amounts in the past few years. (More about that here.) That has the transit agency and city officials looking at ways to reverse the trend.

The airport expects 1,500-2,000 passengers per day to take advantage of the priority screening lanes with the goal of increasing BART ridership to the airport by at least 5 percent.

It’s important to note these priority lanes are not the same as the TSA PreCheck lanes, which allow fliers to keep their shoes, belts and light jackets on when going through metal detectors.

~source