Ride-hail drivers at San Francisco International Airport are no longer allowed to pick passengers up at terminals, but must instead go to the Domestic Garage. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SFO says weekend pickup delays at its ride-hail lot are showing ‘improvement.’ Uber and Lyft aren’t buying it.

Riders report major backups after pickups moved away from terminals to Domestic Garage

After two weekends of nightmarish delays for Uber and Lyft pickups at San Francisco International Airport, officials there now say they are seeing some improvement.

Ride-hail traffic has been backed up for two Sundays in a row after SFO established a new pickup zone in its Domestic Garage, rather than directly at terminals, according to drivers and companies.

The change caused backups and delays after a glut of drivers crowded the complicated turnarounds and criss-crossing roadways of the garage.

Wait times doubled, with some riders reporting waiting as long as 40 minutes. Large, confused crowds of riders contributed to the headaches.

As of Monday, however, SFO officials said the kinks in the plan to move pickups have been largely worked out, traffic is smoother, and more pickups took place this last Sunday.

“We definitely saw an improvement last night,” Doug Yakel, an SFO spokesperson, said in a statement to the San Francisco Examiner.

But Uber and Lyft aren’t buying it.

“Unfortunately, SFO’s reluctance to heed the calls from riders and drivers to fix its pickup situation in the garage resulted in increased congestion, higher cancellation rates and longer wait times for the third week in a row when compared to the week before the move,” an Uber spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Lyft does admit traffic congestion was down Sunday, but claims it was due to overall reduced demand for rides.

“While wait times were down this past Sunday, so was demand. Lyft maintains that as currently configured, the garage ramp cannot deliver the great passenger experience expected of Lyft and the SFO Airport,” a spokesperson wrote.

SFO, Uber, and Lyft all agree on one thing, at least — Sunday nights between 8 and 11 p.m. are SFO’s busiest for ride-hail pickups, when SFO sees its “largest volume of activity,” according to the airport.

Following a couple of difficult weekends, SFO instituted changes to improve the pickup process including, first and foremost, opening a new vehicle lane exclusively for Uber and Lyft to its domestic garage. That’s two for Uber and Lyft, two for regular traffic, and one for traditional taxis.

The airport also modified how vehicles return to the airport to reduce backups on its inbound roadway, adjusted messaging for private vehicle pickups to better manage congestion, and improved signage in its new pickup area so Uber and Lyft drivers could better navigate.

Those changes cut wait times “in half” compared to two weeks ago, allowed 2,000 more ride-hail pickups than the previous Sunday and improved roadway speeds, keeping them at 35 mph or more, said Yakel.

Uber, on the other hand, said wait time and cancellation rates at the airport were still well above Sunday nights previous to the pickup zone’s move. Lyft said there was a 30 percent decrease in rider volume Sunday night, which they say resulted in decreased congestion.

While Uber and Lyft aren’t necessarily fans of the SFO pickup change, they have been stepping up to mitigate confusion. Uber, for instance, placed a group of six “ambassadors” at the garage and staging lot to help facilitate their drivers’ operations.

One thing is for sure, rider and drivers said: Any more headaches like this, and they may fly out of Oakland International Airport instead.

“Hey @flySFO are you trying to get us to fly out of Oakland going forward? This Lyft/Uber pickup is a disaster. No movement. People waiting for 30-60 mins,” Twitter user @biggySF wrote the first weekend of the new pickup rules, on June 9.

Then again, fliers could just hop on BART.


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