- Kelly Yamanouchi The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
For months, Uber and Lyft users at Hartsfield-Jackson International have voiced their frustrations when trying to catch rides home during the busiest periods at the airport’s new ride-share pickup zones.
Hartsfield-Jackson officials say they plan to have fixes to address some of those issues by Nov. 15.
Among the problems: The new ride-share pickup areas are a lengthy walk from the terminal particularly for passengers with checked bags, families with young children and car seats, and disabled passengers or those in wheelchairs. The new pickup zones are in a section of the economy parking lots.
“You’ve got to walk a significantly longer way to get to where the pickup is,” William Crozer, who traveled to Atlanta recently. “I don’t think it was implemented well because it’s off in a parking lot.”
Once getting to the pickup zone, some passengers have encountered problems getting a cellular connection to contact their driver, due to weak signals on cellular carriers including Verizon. The problem can lead to confusion and canceled rides.
What’s more, congestion during busy periods on Thursday nights and Sunday nights causes long waits for passengers waiting for their Uber and Lyft drivers to get to the pickup area, as cars back up through the airport parking lot.
Drivers who can’t get through the congestion to pick up their passenger and exit the lot within 15 minutes have to pay for airport parking.
By Nov. 15, the airport plans to boost the cellular signal and add a dedicated lane for Uber and Lyft drivers to exit the economy lots where they pick up passengers.
The new pickup zones opened Aug. 16, as the airport shifted traffic to prepare for congestion caused by the construction of massive canopies over the curbside pickup areas. Airport officials say it’s expected to last until June 2019 when the canopy construction is complete.
Airport officials said as early as Aug. 25 that they were looking for ways to boost the signal and were planning to build exclusive exit lanes for Uber and Lyft drivers.
As to why it took three months to address Uber and Lyft users’ frustrations, airport officials said “a number of issues played into” building the exit lane and coordinating the cellular signal booster, “and that played a role in the delay.”
“We recognize there are challenges,” said Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Andrew Gobeil. But, he added, “there have been improvements since we moved to the new temporary locations. There are a number of issues that we are addressing to make sure that our passengers have the best possible experience at ATL.” He added that “this is a temporary move based on the construction, which will ultimately improve everyone’s experience.”
What’s not expected to change: The long walk from the terminal to the pickup zones. Airport officials say the pickup zones in the economy lots are the only location where they can accommodate the volume of Uber and Lyft pickups.
“We coordinated and collaborated with the ride-share companies to come up with the best possible option,” Gobeil said.
“It certainly gives the impression that they’re trying to disincentivize people to use ride-share services and to instead use the cab services,” said Dakarai Aarons, who lives near Washington, D.C. and traveled to Atlanta to speak at a conference in Buckhead. “That’s the impression you get when there’s an extra step or two to get down there.”
For drivers, “it gets frustrating on some days,” said Uber driver Nicholas Stewart. Passengers are “trying to call you, you’re trying to receive their calls, you’re really just hoping that they’ll still be there sometimes.” He said it can take 25 to 30 minutes to make a pickup sometimes.
“Someone cancels on your or you lose signal, you go to the back end of the queue and your wait starts all over again,” Stewart said. “It’s happened to me countless times.”
As a result, Stewart said he has “cut down a little” on airport pickups.
Jason Brickell, who lives in Chamblee and travels for his job in software sales, said when he landed in Atlanta on a recent Thursday night, “It was mayhem.”
He said it took about 30 minutes to catch his Lyft and leave the airport.
“Cars are just getting backed up and bottlenecked,” Brickell said. “People were piled up waiting to get into a car. It was just a mess.”
Uber spokeswoman Evangline George said in a written statement: “We share the same concerns as riders and driver-partners about the airport pick-up experience, and our team will continue giving that feedback to airport officials while recommending solutions for our shared customers.”
Brickell said he travels about once a month or more, “and it seems like every time that I’ve come back from a flight to use [ride-share], it’s gotten worse.”
Airport officials are also preparing to review the $3.85 fee that Uber and Lyft passengers pay on top of the fare for each pickup at the Atlanta airport.
The fee is supposed to be to recover the airport’s costs. If the costs go up, the fee could too, and vice-versa.
“We’re going to go over the data to determine whether or not there will be a modification,” Gobeil said.
Uber recommends domestic passengers landing in Atlanta without checked bags take the people-mover train to the international terminal, where they can get picked up curbside.
Domestic travelers with checked bags will need to claim their bags at the domestic terminal, where the pickup zones require a walk.
Aarons, the traveler from Washington, D.C., said he doesn’t think it’s good for Atlanta “if the city is expected to have a lot of businesses coming in for a conference.”
“You want to create at the beginning a really welcoming experience. That’s not what’s currently being created for people who are entering the city that way,” he said.