To say that LAX suffers from a traffic problem would be an understatement.
While the airport was lauded in the 20th century for its modern design and horseshoe layout, a fast-growing population has pushed LAX to its limits, a record 87.5 million people squeezing through the Californian airport last year. Between January and June of this year, a staggering 43 million had already passed through LAX, up 372,000 — or 0.9 per cent — from the same six months last year. For an airport second in US and fourth in the world for passenger traffic numbers, traffic is to be expected.
It was 1984 when LAX last updated its international terminal to support the influx of passengers when the city hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Due to host the 2028 Olympics, LAX now face the mountainous task of overhauling their infrastructure to accommodate the growing passenger traffic rate and technological advances.
“This is our time,” says Deborah Flint, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports. Under her leadership, the airport will be the first in the US to undergo such seismic development and modernisation. The $14 billion plan currently comprises of an expansion to the international terminal, completion of runway work, the addition of efficient security checkpoints, new baggage carousels, consolidated rental car facilities, new parking structures, a people mover that will take people from the airport to a parking location/car rental facility in ten minutes and finally, a light rail connection to link LAX to the city.
“Traffic here will be a thing of the past,” Flint promised. “What we’re doing here at LAX is the equivalent of probably eight different mega projects at any one time.”
A city based on privately owned vehicles and rental cars, the lack of demand for public transport in the city in the past has left LA unconnected to the airport. However, with the rapid growth in passenger numbers has come a bottleneck at pick-up points; a system that once suited the flow of people has seen drop-off and pick-up areas reach breaking point. In response, LAX took the controversial decision to ban all taxis from collecting passengers outside terminals, a move that brought chaos in the short term but is an essential step in addressing the persistent traffic problem that has plagued the airport in recent years.
It may seem a drastic measure, but it’s one that has proved effective for Seattle Tacoma International airport who recently changed the way Uber and Lyft could pick up passengers, allotting the specific space in an off-site carpark that is well-signposted for people arriving in the North Western US airport. Of course, as a much smaller and significantly less crowded airport, comparatively easy transitions in Seattle are to be expected when considering the scale of LAX.
At present, a shuttle bus is the only connection to a taxi rank – it takes 20 minutes for passengers to travel from terminals to an area in which they can hail a cab or book a car to take them to the city.
Such teething problems are inevitable with an airport of this size; the sticking plaster solution to the congestion in the short to mid-term being a planned increase of shuttle buses. Nevertheless, the measure to ban taxis from terminals shows progress and a willingness to learn from other players in the airport community.
While it’s undeniable that more work is needed and those on the ground during rush hour at LAX have no choice but to be patient, current plans suggest the coming decade will prove transformational. As the LA airport undergoes its current multi-year renovation project, passengers can look forward to a time in which passing through this colossal transport hub will be a positive experience – be it for business or pleasure. It may be coming a little later than passengers would hope, but the next chapter in LAX Airport’s history is one of seamless arrivals and quick transitions for passenger traffic. Airports of the world, take note.
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