A group of taxi drivers rallied outside City Hall Friday, asking city leaders to step in and halt an imminent plan to halt curbside pickups at Los Angeles International Airport terminals.
The drivers contend that forcing them out of the Central Terminal Area to a new pickup lot -- dubbed LAX-it and shared with ride-hailing services such as Lyft and Uber -- will effectively doom an industry already struggling to compete with the app-based transportation companies.
According to the Taxi Workers Association of Los Angeles, the primary advantage cab drivers had at LAX was the ability to pick up passengers directly at curbsides near terminal baggage-claim areas. Ride-hailing pickups at the airport were restricted to designated zones on the upper, arrivals level.
One driver said moving cabs into the remote pickup lot with Lyft and Uber "is equivalent to putting a 150-pound, 15-year-old with a blindfold in the same ring with a heavyweight champ."
Leon Slomovic of the association said taxi drivers had already lost about 35% of their tip income once Uber and Lyft were permitted to operate at the airport, and moving everyone into the remote pickup area will leave them unable to compete.
LAX officials have said the move to a remote lot is needed to counter ever-increasing traffic congestion in the Central Terminal Area. Responding to Friday's protest, the airport issued a statement saying taxis gobble up too much curb space at terminals.
"Taxis take up a disproportionate amount of curb space at LAX -- approximately 18.5% of the inner cub on the lower level -- and, with a closure of 30% of that curb for construction, we just don't have that space," according to the airport. "We have been working with taxi companies for nearly a year, and as a result, LAX-it will have more taxi queuing space than they currently have in the whole Central Terminal Area, and taxis will be on the first LAX-it curb closest to the shuttle dropoff."
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Airport officials announced earlier this month that all taxi and ride-hailing pickups will be moved out of the terminal area, although dropoffs will still be permitted.
Under the new system, shuttle buses will travel in a dedicated lane around the Central Terminal Area picking up passengers and carrying them to the LAX-it pickup lot. Airport officials said passengers will never wait more than five minutes for a shuttle, and the ride to the lot will take a maximum of 15 minutes, thanks to the dedicated lane.
The airport plans to run a test of the shuttle-system traffic pattern from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, although taxi and Lyft/Uber service will not be affected or restricted.
The LAX-it lot is scheduled to open at 3 a.m. Oct. 29.