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Rideshare Companies Are Getting Along with Chicago Airports — For Now

Business has increased for Uber and Lyft since the launch of their Chicago airport pick-up services in November, but cabbies say it’s hurting their bottom line.

by Rianne Coale, RedEye, Chicago / April 1, 2016

(TNS) — Business has increased for both Uber and Lyft since the launch of their Chicago airport pick-up services in November of last year, offering more on-the-ground options for travelers but hurting cabbies who say it's hurt their bottom line.

With the holidays in the rearview mirror and summer travel season in clear view, Lyft says it's seeing as much as three times the growth in Chicago airport rides since its launch, according to Lyft spokeswoman Mary Caroline Pruitt.

Uber remained mum on its numbers. Thousands of trips are being taken from the airport each week, according to Uber spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.

“Riders love having the option to push a button and get a ride home after a long day of travel, and drivers are no longer forced to return from the airport in an empty car with no passengers,” Anderson said.

That may be, but travelers overwhelmingly opt for public transit to get to the airport, according to a RedEye Twitter poll, which gathered a total of 460 votes. A whopping 46 percent of people traveling from a Chicago airport most recently took a CTA train or bus. Another 18 percent took a taxi, and 17 percent opted for an Uber or Lyft. Some 19 percent took another method of transportation, according to the poll.

The addition of rideshare services at O’Hare and Midway airports has offered travelers a faster exit from the facilities, Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Owen Kilmer said.

"What we’ve heard on the ground is that as a result of rideshare options, passengers have seen a reduction in wait times leaving the airports, especially at O’Hare," Kilmer said.

Generally speaking, Uber and Lyft are cheaper alternatives to taking a taxi, although taking the rideshare service during times of surge pricing may price out to be the same or even more expensive than a cab.

But while Uber and Lyft may be a more affordable and technologically savvy transportation option, taxicabs are still in the game—even though many cab drivers complain they’ve lost business to Uber and Lyft at the airports.

Tony Soltani, 54, who said he's a veteran of the taxicab business, said Uber and Lyft have taken about 25 percent of his business since being allowed to pick up travelers at the airports—something he said has cost him time and money.

“Before Uber, we used to wait one hour at the airport to pick up passengers, which was normal, but now we have to wait three hours to get a customer,” Soltani said in frustration.

Soltani said he makes his way out to the airports, on average, once or twice a day to drop off customers. Typically, drivers will then wait in a taxi lot until they’re allowed to pick up new passengers at the cabstand. While Soltani said he hates returning to the city empty-handed, sometimes he just can’t afford to wait at the airport.

“The parking lot where we park and wait is sometimes full, and the cab line goes outside and into the street and goes down about two miles, so I just go back empty,” Soltani said.

Despite the many qualms taxi drivers may have with the rideshare companies, travelers who have switched to using the rideshare options gave a few reasons why they choose the service over taking the CTA or a cab.

“It’s more convenient than taxis, and it’s also cheaper. You can easily book an Uber or Lyft from an app, and you don’t need to wait in line like you would for a taxi,” 22-year-old Lincolnwood resident Jabbar Mohammed said as he waited for his Uber to arrive at an O’Hare loading zone.

James Minor, a 25-year-old Hyde Park resident, said he's used Lyft to get to and from O'Hare and finds it more convenient than taking the CTA or a cab.

"Catching a bus or Metra to the Blue Line takes more time, and Lyft is cheaper—to me—over taking a cab," Minor said. "Also, having Lyft on my phone makes it easier to pay."

Ease and reliability are what attracted 21-year-old Evanston resident Margaret Shavlik to the rideshare service.

"I can click a couple buttons on my phone, and it arrives five minutes later. I don't have to hope I'm able to hail a cab or reserve a cab ahead of time. I know there will always be an Uber available when I'm ready to leave," Shavlik said.

"Also, to get to O'Hare from Evanston on the 'L,' I would have to take the Purple Line to the Red Line, then Red Line all the way into The Loop—the wrong way—and then transfer to Blue Line to go back Northwest. It takes an hour and a half at least," Shavlik added. "And carrying a suitcase up and down stairs for the L is very much a pain."

©2016 RedEye (Chicago) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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