Kicking Congestion from the Curb at CLT

Airport finally finds a place for Uber and Lyft

I landed at Charlotte Douglas International Airport from vacation last Wednesday afternoon, not a time I would’ve expected for high traffic. Silly me. The designated Uber/Lyft pickup area, a few feet of curb on the lower level, was packed with the desperate, the tired, the luggage-burdened. They gazed longingly at their phones. Only six minutes until Raul arrives in his gray Honda Civic to rescue me. Come to me, Raul. My guy, Brian, tried to call me when he was 13 minutes into his projected 10-minute trip from the Lyft waiting lot on Wilkinson Boulevard. I missed it in the Arrivals din and called him back.

“This is Brian.”

“Hey. You rang.”

“Yeah. Tried to call you, but you didn’t answer. Wanted to see if you’d be OK with, uh, moving to the upper level for pickup. I’m coming up on it now.”

I knew from experience that security frowns on rideshare drivers picking up Arrivals where other drivers drop off Departures. I told Brian this.

“Well,” he said, “I do it all the time.” The guy had a five-star rating, though I’m sure not from CLT security.

“I’ll just cancel.”

“OK.”

I ate the five-dollar fee and had a much better experience with Hany, a Lebanese gentleman with whom I coordinated an intricate and daring pickup maneuver at the A gate. We maintained telephonic communication throughout. I dodged other Arrivals and their rides to meet Hany at precisely the right moment, when he slowed to a stop in a lane of stalled traffic. I loaded one bag, he loaded the other, we loaded ourselves, he cut the wheels of his Hyundai to the left, and we were off.

It was exhilarating, I’ll tell you. It was as if we’d trained.

“Thanks, man,” I told Hany. “Good work. This shit is ridiculous.”

I had just returned from New Orleans, where the airport has designated an area beneath a parking deck across from the terminal for rideshare pickup rather than force Uber and Lyft drivers to play Dale Sr.-at-Daytona with all the other traffic at the Arrivals curb. This seems to make a certain, oh, sense.

I say this with all due love and respect to both my hometown of New Orleans and my adopted home city of Charlotte: When a civic entity in New Orleans surpasses the corresponding civic entity in your city in logistical efficiency and ease of use, you need to make some changes.

Which, thank goodness, the people who run the world’s seventh-busiest airport apparently will make by the end of the month. A few weeks in advance of the groundbreaking for a planned $600 million upgrade to the terminal entrance and lobby, the airport will institute a new traffic pattern for Arrivals that includes two designated lanes and a designated zone for Uber and Lyft, “which is a huge improvement,” CLT Chief Operating Officer Jack Christine told City Council members this week. “I’m confident we’ll see some benefits when we open up that project here in two weeks.”

Me, too. It could hardly be worse than the current setup. As for the planned terminal upgrade, it’ll expand the ticket counter, baggage claim and security gates and reconfigure the flow of foot traffic, which anyone who uses CLT can tell you is often as snarled as College Street at rush hour. The project will take nearly six years and, of course, proceed as the airport and its customers do their daily business, which will require detours and alternate routes and multiple inconveniences, all of which motorists in this emerging city—ain’t growth grand?—are surely used to by now.

Categories: The Buzz