Posts in the category "ground transporation":

One more (green) way to get to DC-area airports

Claiming it will “disrupt the disrupters,” Green Tomato Cars, an eco-friendly car service that has found success in London, plans to go up against Uber, Lyft and other app-dispatched, ride-share companies offering an alternative to traditional taxis in the Washington, D.C. market.

Besides the quirky name, the company hopes to stand out by offering reserved rides, transparent pricing and Wi-Fi-equipped hybrid vehicles.

Noting that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles recently sent Uber and Lyft cease and desist letters, and that those companies, and others, are dealing with regulatory hurdles in California and some other states, Green Tomato also boasts that it is legal.

“We’re different in that we own the cars. They’re commercially insured and our contract drivers—we call them ambassadors—are fully trained and have undergone rigorous background checks,” said founder and Vice President Jonny Goldstone.

With a pool of potential customers who are “thoughtful, well-educated consumers, interested in the environment and quite demanding in terms of service expectations,” D.C. was Green Tomato’s first pick for expansion because it was the closest fit to the London market, said Goldstone.

Paris will be the next city to get Green Tomato Cars, with Chicago, Boston and San Francisco under consideration.

“What they will need to do in order to compete,” with services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, is “offer a great user experience on the app; scale to other cities quickly and be able to offer on-demand service,” said PhoCusWright research analyst Maggie Rauch. “A pricing promise could be very appealing, too, as the biggest player, Uber, has managed to confuse and anger consumers with some of their surge pricing policies.”

Green Tomato has 500 vehicles serving London, where competitors include Addison Lee and Uber. In Washington, Green Tomato’s fleet currently has just 25 cars, but that number should triple by the fall, said Goldstone.

Until it does, the company is not serving all of area, but focusing on providing a licensed, bookable service to and from Dulles International, Reagan National and Baltimore Washington International airports with a published menu of competitive fares. Despite the Virginia DMV statewide cease and desist orders, Uber and Lyft continue to serve the market.

“We are in productive discussions with the Virginia Commonwealth government on an ongoing basis, and continue to operate as usual. Riders can enjoy Uber trips to and from any Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority airport,” said Uber’s Taylor Bennett via email.

“We are continuing to work with state officials to craft new rules for this new industry,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said via email. “In terms of airport operations, we are also continuing productive and collaborative conversations to come to a solution that preserves a way forward for this community-powered transportation movement.”

Neither company would comment on the service Green Tomato Cars provides to the D.C.-area airports, but airports authority spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs said that, like other jurisdictions around the country, it is studying the “expanding ground transportation landscape” for ways to incorporate new technologies “while ensuring customer safety, satisfaction and experience.”

Gibbs said if a company is authorized to operate in Virginia, it can operate at the Dulles and Regan National airports. If not, “they could be ticketed.”

(My story on Green Tomato Cars first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

 

After the flight? Try a bike share in the city.

It’s great to fly to a new city for business or leisure travel, but how will you get around once you’re in town?
In more and more cities, bike-share programs – along with mass transit- are the answer.

Here’s a story I put together for CNBC Road Warrior on some of the bike-share programs rolling out around the country:

Pronto Bikes

Despite some financial and legal challenges, bike-sharing programs are rolling out in cities throughout North America.

Locals and visitors in Minneapolis, New York, Washington and about 30 other North American cities can now buy daily, weekly or annual program memberships and/or pay hourly fees to check out a bike to ride around town.

Cities such as Tampa; San Diego; Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, British Columbia, will soon be launching programs.

Seattle is the latest city to announce that it is joining the bike-share bandwagon, with a start date in September for Pronto Emerald City Cycle Share, which will kick off with 50 docking stations around town for 500 blue and green bikes.

As in other cities, grants, private sponsorships and user fees will make the bike-share program possible. But with a contribution of $2.5 million from Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, the Emerald City is the first to have its bike-share program sponsored by an airline.

“We’re excited to help residents and visitors get out and explore,” said Joe Sprague, the airline’s vice president of marketing. “Our investment in this program is an investment in our community.”

It may seem odd that a traditionally fuel-guzzling form of transportation is supporting a very green one, but Alaska Airlines has a strong sustainability program.

“Biking in a city puts smiles on people’s faces, and airlines want to be associated with people having fun while traveling,” said Andy Clarke, president of the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists.

That fun has bubbled over to political and policy decisions in other cities.

“When Paris introduced their system a decade ago, it was striking how many mayors around the world said ‘I want that,’ ” said Clarke.

And biking through a city is no longer seen as unconventional.

“Maybe 10 years ago biking would have been a granola effort in the sense that people choosing to bike were part of the environmental movement,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the non-profit Eno Center for Transportation.

“Bike-sharing has helped change that. In places like Washington, D.C., and Chicago you see people in suits and ties riding the bikes because it’s a convenient and effective way to get to work. Not because they’re saving the Earth,” said Schank.

While setting up a bike-share program may seem as easy as putting up some racks with bikes, “it’s complicated and not cheap, easy or free. There’s a lot to it,” said Clarke.

And these programs are not without flats.

In January 2014, Montreal-based Public Bike System Company (known as Bixi), which provided bike-share equipment to programs in several countries, sought bankruptcy protection with more than $44 million in debt.  Contributing to the company’s financial downfall was a problem with the software for bike docking stations in some major cities, which caused those cities to withhold payments.

The company was sold in April.

“That raised a bunch of question and has hampered a few cities from pushing ahead,” said Clarke. “They’re asking more questions about the financial implications, but I don’t think it will have much of a lasting effect on the take-up of bike share programs.”

Portland, Ore.-based Alta Bicycle Share, which manages bike-share programs in cities including Chicago, New York, Boston, and Washington, is working with 8D Technologies to begin installing improved docking and software systems in bike-share cities that once relied on Bixi. Seattle’s Pronto program will be the first.

The cost of setting up bike-share programs is also coming down.

“When the bike-share concept came to the U.S. in 2010, it cost about $6,000 per bike to get on the street, including the kiosks, racks and installation,” said Josh Squire, CEO of Miami-based CycleHop, which is working on launching programs in Tampa, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Louisville and Ottawa.

Now with smart bikes and new technology, it’s possible to get a program going for $3,000 to $5,000 per bike, said Squire. “And more sponsors—including banks, health-care companies and, now, airlines—are stepping up to help shoulder the costs, paying $500 to $1,000 per year per bike to sponsor the programs.”

For travelers wanting to try out a bike-share program in a new city, Clarke has a few tips.

Bring a helmet. And if you think you’ll want a bike for a half or full day, consider getting one from a traditional bike rental outlet. That may end up being less expensive than bike-share programs, which often don’t charge members for rides under 30 minutes, but start a meter running after that.

“But in a city like Washington, D.C., that can still be cheaper than one cab ride,” said Clarke.

And nothing beats the experience of riding up and down the National Mall on a bike.”

It’s getting easier to take the train to the plane

PHX SkyTrain_courtes Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

In the United States, getting between the airport and downtown can sometimes be the most irritating part of a trip.

But when DART Rail Orange Line trains begin serving Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport later this year, Dallas will join Seattle, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and an increasing number of other cities with rail links that make it easy for business and leisure travelers— and airport employees—to make that journey.

“The vast majority of public transport to airports is by buses,” said Deborah McElroy, executive vice president for policy and external affairs at Airports Council International-North America. “But airports are increasingly recognizing that rail transportation is favorably viewed by passengers; especially those from other countries where rail to the airport is more common.”

This summer Burbank Bob Hope Airport will open its $112 million Regional Intermodal Transportation Center directly across the street from the Bob Hope Airport Train Station, with service by commuter rail and Amtrak.

“The line runs north from Downtown L.A. through Glendale and Burbank, then turns west traversing the San Fernando Valley to Ventura County and coastal points north,” said airport spokesman Victor Gill, “and we’ve already broken ground for a second Metrolink stop directly at the airport on a separate line that runs north from Burbank to the Santa Clarita Valley (Magic Mountain territory)/Palmdale/Lancaster.”

In April 2013, the Utah Transit Authority opened Airport TRAX, a six-mile light-rail line to Salt Lake City International Airport. That was the same month Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s Sky Train began service between Terminal 4 (the airport’s busiest terminal), and Valley Metro Light Rail. The free system will eventually make stops at the airport’s other terminals, but has already carried 3 million passengers, said Heather Lissner, PHX airport spokeswoman.

In addition to making it easy for travelers to get to and from the airport, Lissner says locals have been taking the Sky Train to the airport on dates. “People park in East Economy or ride the light rail to connect with the PHX Sky Train then enjoy dinner in Terminal 4 at one of our pre-security restaurants and look at the various art exhibitions in the terminal,” she said.

At Miami International Airport, a 2.4 mile Metrorail extension opened in 2012, and the airport’s Central Station should be complete by the end of 2014, adding links to Amtrak and the region’s Tri-Rail service.

By the end of 2014 the 3.2-mile, $484 million Oakland Airport Connector—a people mover linking the airport to the Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART Station—is scheduled to open as well.

“We already have regular bus service between OAK and the BART station,” said Oakland International Airport spokesman Scott Winter, “but the new line will add a new level of convenience and, most importantly, reliability, as it cruises above traffic below.”

A rail link to an airport is not just convenient; according to a joint study released in November 2013 by the U.S. Travel Association and the nonprofit American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which advocates for public transportation. (APTA dates to 1882, and its initial meetings focused on the price of oats for the horses that pulled transit vehicles.) “Rail cities” can have a financial edge, the report contended.

“We found that cities with airport rail connections have a competitive advantage in generating revenues for the private sector and the overall city tax base compared to similar cities that do not have direct rail connection to the airport,” said Darnell Grisby, APTA’s director of research and policy.

The study compared hotel performance in six cities with airport rail service—Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco—to hotel performance in popular convention cities without direct airport rail service—Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando, Fla., Sacramento, Calif., and Tampa, Fla.

Hotels in rail cities were found to receive nearly 11 percent more revenue per room than hotels in cities without an airport rail connection. According to the study, that higher revenue per room translates to a potential $313 million in revenue per year for the rail cities.

While cost and other concerns can be a deterrent, building a rail line to an airport can be an economic generator that makes a city more appealing to meeting, event and convention planners, said Erik Hansen, senior director of domestic policy at the U.S. Travel Association.

“The decisions of these planners can generate millions of dollars in spending at hotels and local restaurants,” said Hansen. “And if they’re going to put anywhere from 1,000 to upwards of 25,000 people on the road at a single time and have them leave an airport at a single time, they want transportation options.”

With some of those issues certainly in mind, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is moving ahead with a two-phase plan for improved rail service to Dulles International Airport that includes constructing a 23-mile extension of the existing Metrorail system.

Denver International Airport has partnered with the Regional Transportation District to add a 22.8-mile commuter rail connection from DEN to downtown Denver that is scheduled to open in 2016.

In Los Angeles, studies are underway to decide how best to connect the Metro Rail system with Los Angeles International Airport. And Orlando International Airport has announced plans to spend $470 million to build an automated people-mover system to support a variety of future travel connections, including intercity rail service between Orlando, Miami and the airport.

The people mover planned for Tampa International Airport may someday link to a regional transportation center and there’s promise of a mass transit link as part of New York City’s LaGuardia Airport Central Terminal overhaul.

“It certainly depends on the airport community and who they are competing with,” said McElroy of ACI-NA, “but a number of airports have indicated that they believe having a rail link from the airport to downtown is a key factor in being competitive in the global airport market.”

(My story about rail service to airports first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior in a slightly different version.)

Detour for Sidecar & uberX at LAX & SFO

aerocarmodel_2_lrg

Ride-sharing services provided by companies such as Lyft, Sidecar and uberX have become popular, if somewhat controversial, lower-cost alternatives to traditional taxicabs in many cities and at many airports.

The services match people who need rides with mobile app-dispatched citizen drivers willing to provide rides and accept a fee.

But, citing an aggressive stance by authorities at Los Angeles International Airport for issuing citations to drivers picking up passengers there, Uber and Sidecar have recently pulled the plug on that part of their LAX service.

“Although we look forward to working with the authorities to resolve these issues quickly, this unwarranted action by authorities to punish drivers and riders cannot continue,” Uber spokesman Andrew Noyes wrote in a company blog post a week ago. “That’s why we’re temporarily halting uberX pick-ups at LAX effective immediately.”

Noyes told CNBC there were no projections on when the uberX pickup service might resume, but that for now uberX drivers are still dropping off passengers at LAX. The company’s other services, UberBLACK and UberSUV, which work with licensed commercial drivers, continue both pickups and dropoffs at LAX, he said.

Sidecar spokeswoman Margaret Ryan said via email that because the company has heard of the increased enforcement action at LAX, “we’ve advised Los Angeles drivers to avoid picking up passengers at LAX as well.”

In an email, Los Angeles Airport Police spokeswoman Sgt. Belinda Nettles said “no special enforcement is taking place” against uberX, Sidecar or other ride-share drivers. Only that “airport police officers are enforcing airport rules and regulations, as well as any violations pertaining to the penal code, vehicle code and the Los Angeles municipal codes as appropriate.”

At issue are the first round of rules issued by the California Public Utilities Commission for regulating companies such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft, which the commission calls transportation network companies. “The question of picking up passengers by TNCs is still under review” by the commission, and TNCs wishing to serve the airport also need licenses or permits, and insurance, to do business at LAX, Nettles said.

Nettles said Thursday she was unable to provide information on what types of citations were issued to uberX drivers. “We cite for airport rules and regulation violations and California vehicle and penal code violations as appropriate daily,” she said.

LAX is not the only airport that has taken action against ride-sharing companies.

In April, San Francisco International Airport issued a cease and desist order to ride-sharing services operating there. “These were enforced primarily through admonishments, and some citations were also issued,” said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel.

Like many other airports, San Francisco has rules stating that each business that provides ground transportation, rental car or airport parking services must get an airport permit .

In response, Uber published a blog post in August with tips for riders at SFO noting that pickups by Uber services were unaffected, but that “SFO has taken an aggressive stance against uberX and has begun citing some drivers.” The company suggested fliers instead use another Uber ride service, such as UberBLACK or UberSUV.

Ryan said Sidecar is working with the state utilities commission to work out a solution but that in response to the cease and desist order, “we’ve advised San Francisco drivers to avoid trips to SFO until we’ve figured it out.”

Lyft has not yet responded to a request from CNBC for the status of its services at LAX or SFO.

For its part, SFO airport, which recently came to an agreement with car-sharing service Relay Rides, remains “open to new business models that provide our customers with a variety of transportation options,” said Yakel.

He said while the decision by the California Public Utilities Commission to regulate transportation network companies provides a framework to move forward with a permitting process at SFO, “we have yet to receive word of any TNC attempting to operate at SFO being permitted through the CPUC.”

(My story about ride-sharing services at SFO and LAX first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

The best airport amenities of 2013

In the sky, hassles abound as airlines squeeze in more seats on their planes and tack on more fees for checking baggage, changing flight plans and using other services.

On the ground, it’s a rosier story.

Airports are steadily upgrading their facilities and adding amenities that offer passengers more enjoyable experiences that can make the time spent waiting for a flight the best part of the trip.

As we close out 2013, here are some of the best of airport amenities rolled out this past year.

Automated passport kiosks

Automate passport kiosk at ORD

You can’t really enjoy your time at an airport unless you can get into the airport, and this year we’ve seen wait times at customs significantly reduced at a handful of North American airports that have installed automated passport kiosks.

U.S. citizens can use these machines – for free – to scan their passports, answer customs declarations questions and cut short the time they need to spend in conversation with a customs officer.

The first machines were installed in May at Vancouver International Airport. In August, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport became the first U.S. airport to roll out the kiosks. Since then, the wait-reducing machines have been introduced at New York JFK International Airport (Terminal 4), Miami International Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Montreal-Trudeau International Airport and, on Dec. 4, at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

TSA Pre-check expands

TSA PreCheck Enrollment Center at IND Airport - courtesy TSA

At the end of 2012, the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-check program offering expedited airport security screening was available at 35 airports for eligible passengers on five airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, United and U.S. Airways) and members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program.

Today, the Pre-check program is available at 102 airports and the number of participating airlines has expanded to nine: Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and Virgin America.

Beginning Dec. 20, active members of the U.S. Armed Forces (including the Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard) who use their Department of Defense ID number when making a reservation may use the Pre-check lanes as well.

And last week, TSA launched a program offering eligible travelers five years of Pre-check membership for $85. Applications may be started online, but must be completed in person at the enrollment center now open at Indianapolis International Airport, at one of the centers TSA will open in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles by the end of 2013, or at one of the more than 300 centers planned for the future.

Lounge-like checkpoints

 

DFW CALMING CHECKPOINT - courtesy Security Point Media

Thanks to a three-month pilot program that began in October, Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport each have a security checkpoint that could (almost) double for a relaxing hotel lobby.

A joint project between Security Point Media and Marriott’s SpringHill Suites, the checkpoints have stylish décor, soothing wall art, colored lights and relaxing music as well as “re-composure” areas with comfortable leather couches and – a brilliant touch – mirrors.

Response to what’s been dubbed “The Next Level Experience” has been so positive that talks are underway to continue these installations at these two airports and possibly expand the concept to other airports in 2014.

Improved airport transportation

BWI MARC TRAIN - courtesy BWI

Getting to and from the airport can be part of the hassle of any trip, but during 2013 a few airports smoothed out some transit options.

Boston Logan International Airport says there is now “no scheduled end date” for a pilot program introduced in 2012 offering free Silver Line bus rides between the airport and the city center.

San Francisco International Airport, which took legal action last summer against car and ride-sharing programs it claimed were operating illegally at the airport, now has an agreement with the car-sharing company Relay Rides. This should pave the way for other non-traditional transportation companies to negotiate deals at SFO and other airports grappling with this issue.

And, just in time for holiday travel, the Maryland Transit Administration added weekend MARC commuter rail service between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, with stops at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Airport service plazas

Denver Airprt_Dunkin Donuts

Facilities offering a wide variety of truly helpful services for passengers – and for those picking folks up – popped up this year outside two airports.

In September, Denver International Airport opened its a super-sized, 253-space cellphone lot called “Final Approach” adjacent to a fueling station. The lot’s building has a children’s play area with iPads built into tabletops, lounge seating, indoor restrooms, free Wi-Fi (which reaches the parking lot), flight display boards and four restaurants, including a Dunkin’ Donuts with a 24-hour drive-through which, airport officials report, is selling about 7,200 donuts each day.

In October, the Service Plaza opened near Indianapolis International Airport. In additional to a fueling station, automated green car wash, automobile detailing and quick lube services, there are two restaurants, a Circle K convenience store, flight display monitors and restrooms.

Great food and drink

IHOP

Interesting places to eat and drink continue to show up at airports and this year fresh additions ranged from the Shake Shack at JFK’s T4 and the first airport IHOP – which opened at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – to Root Down at Denver International Airport, which operates with a decidedly “field to fork” flair.

The food-trucks-at-airports concept also expanded this year, with San Francisco, Sacramento, Tucson, Austin and Long Beach airports following the lead of Tampa International, which first invited food trucks to visit that airport around this time last year.

Great ideas

And then there are some interesting one-off ideas that we may see adopted by other airports during the next year.

Since February, Denver International Airport has had collection containers at four security checkpoints seeking donations of loose change for Denver’s Road Home, an organization that helps the homeless. Parking meter-style collection stations are inside the airport and so far this year, more than $69,000 has been raised.

In August, Vermont’s Burlington International installed a free-standing, pod-shaped Mamava Lactation Station to offer nursing and breastfeeding mothers a clean, comfortable and private space, post-security, to take care of business.

Burlington_MAMAVA ON SITE

And this year, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport not only made room for an automated kiosk that taught air travelers a simplified, life-saving CPR method called Hands-Only, this holiday season DFW is offering what could be a face-saving service for last-minute shoppers: free shipping for last-minute gifts purchased in the terminals.

(My round-up of the Best Airport Amenities in 2013 first appeared as my December 2013 At the Airport column on USA Today Travel.)

 

Have you encountered any great airport amenities this year? Please share your favorites below.

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