Local officials, airport administrators and ride-hailing companies remain committed to clearing the traffic congestion forming along Millbrae Avenue caused by changes to the pickup pattern at San Francisco International Airport.
Millbrae and Burlingame officials met Tuesday, July 9, with representatives with Lyft and the airport to discuss possible ways to clear the car logjam occurring during peak travel times.
Those in the meeting largely agreed recent amendments to the traffic flow through the area have been helpful in addressing the problem, but suggested more calming initiatives are likely on the horizon.
Millbrae Mayor Wayne Lee recognized the dedication of most involved parties in working together to resolve the traffic jam which has frustrated residents, drivers, officials and others.
“Everybody is trying to work together on this for changes as quick as possible,” said Lee, who represented his city in the Tuesday discussion.
Burlingame City Manager Lisa Goldman, who represented her city during the session, shared a similar sentiment.
“This is a good opportunity for all of us to brainstorm solutions to this recent challenge,” said Goldman, who balanced that perspective by expressing dismay that Uber representatives were not present at the meeting.
The challenge to which she refers is the traffic backup along Millbrae Avenue and Old Bayshore Highway formed by ride-hailing drivers headed to the new pickup zone which was moved from the airport curb.
The congestion can result in traffic stalls as long as 30 minutes for drivers spanning from nearby thoroughfares onto Highway 101, as ride-hailing drivers queue to access the domestic hourly parking garage.
Since the congestion started to form late last month, airport officials have since opened a new entrance to the garage to relieve a major chokepoint which occurred when many drivers merged to a single point of access. A new staging lot was also established in San Bruno, where drivers can idle before getting called for a pickup.
Most parties agree the efforts have successfully cleared some of the traffic, barring peak traffic periods around Thursday when many flights begin to depart and Sunday when many return.
Goldman said a wait-and-see approach must be adopted in the immediate term to determine whether the traffic calming initiatives are successful and sustainable.
“We kind of need to see how that new lot relieves some of the congestion,” she said. “The hope is it will make matters better, but it will take time for drivers to change their habits.”
Goldman acknowledged Millbrae faces the brunt of the traffic problem, while most of the concern for Burlingame relates to merchants who are complaining customers are struggling to access their businesses along the Bayshore.
For Millbrae, Lee suggested officials may seek a more comprehensive traffic study to further analyze the issue while also seeking greater police enforcement for drivers breaking the law by searching for shortcuts to get to the airport.
Should such initiatives prove ineffective, Lee said he may favor establishing a fee penalty system targeting ride-hailing companies if they do not resolve the traffic issues organically.
While airport officials did not return multiple requests for comments, an earlier press release from the airport when the pickup zone for domestic travelers was moved from the curbside suggested the relocation was necessary to accommodate an uptick in popularity of ride-hailing services.
Last year, airport officials required select services to relocate with hopes of improving traffic circulation around the domestic terminal. Since the effort fell short of the traffic calming goals set by officials, the moving mandate was expanded to all drivers. International pickups remain at the same location, as do dropoffs.
Barry Taranto, a representative with the San Francisco Taxi Workers Association, said he too believed the changes will take a while to take hold while drivers change their habits. He balanced that perspective though by lauding the shifts, claiming traffic through the airport has improved since the move was established.
“It accomplished the goals it was supposed to and we love it,” said Taranto.
But the move was unpopular with ride-hailing companies, which have proposed alternative measures to preventing curbside access, citing poor experiences for drivers as well as travelers.
For Lyft, a recent letter to Airport Director Ivar Satero illustrated the difficulty for company drivers who can no longer use a system function which pairs them with new pickups shortly after dropping off. As a result, drivers are forced to loop back onto Highway 101, causing additional traffic on surrounding thoroughfares.
While the letter details a variety of concerns held by the company regarding the change and the motivation for airport officials to approve the amendments, a Lyft representative expressed optimism additional deliberations could help fix the issue.
“There is still work to be done and we are counting on the airport leadership to consider some of the many innovative alternatives we have offered to ensure we are providing the best rider and driver experience for all SFO travelers and fully mitigating all of the issues caused by the relocation,” Lyft spokeswoman Lauren Alexander said in an email.
Lee too shared his hope that a sustainable solution could soon be identified, because the status quo remains frustrating for all involved.
“This affects everybody. It’s not good for the city, or the airport or the services,” he said.
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