If LAX has been feeling more crowded inside and out, that's because it is. A record 71 million passengers passed through the airport last year, says the LA Business Journal, and more passengers means more people who need rides to and from the airport. The increased demand has pretty much completely broken the system that dispatchers use to send cabs out to the airport during peak times and has inadvertently caused a taxi glut in the neighborhoods surrounding the airport.
Unlike elsewhere in the city, cabs are relatively easy to find at LAX, both because they want to be there and because—with restrictions—they're allowed to be there (hailing a cab is illegal in most places in LA). The number of taxis at the airport has been regulated by dividing the entire pool of 2,360 cabs into five groups, A through E, and only allowing one group at the airport per day. Those taxis who are allowed to go to the airport have a dedicated lot where they wait to be dispatched.
The only exception to the one-group-per-day rule is when there's a spike in demand for cabs. In that case, something called a "pink call-up" goes into effect. For a window of 10 to 15 minutes, the dispatcher can call in other cabs to help meet the demand. In the past, these call-ups have happened a handful of times a week. But in the past year, with those record traveler numbers, there have been an average of 10 call-ups a day, according to the service that dispatches taxis in LA. On busy days, like a holiday, that number might rise to 20 a day. (One taxi driver suggested another cause for higher taxi demand: people take an Uber or Lyft to the airport, but because ride-hailing services are, for now, barred from picking up travelers, they have to take a cab when they return.)
Lots of taxis post up in the area around the airport, waiting for those inevitable pink call-ups to come in and hoping to snag a big fare. They're not allowed in the airport until they get dispatched, and 10 or 15 minutes isn't a lot of time to get into the airport, so taxi drivers hoping to get the call have to stay close by, like perhaps in a spot next to that airport-adjacent In-N-Out. Then they're left waiting, sometimes for hours, in that primo parking spot. Local businesses contend that taxis are taking up spaces for customers and costing them business. The taxi commissioner says he's in talks with the airport to potentially open another taxi waiting lot for those taxis waiting on pink call-ups.
The airport is one of the few remaining places where taxis still dominate over ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber (which are technically not allowed to pick up at LAX), but it won't stay that way forever. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced he'd like Uber and Lyft to be able to pick up at LAX by the summer. When that happens, will neighbors see an increase in parking spots being taken up by Uber and Lyft drivers hoping to get called?
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