How I would make Uber available in airports

So everybody knows Uber is huge. With its 51 billion valuation and crazy growth, it’s one of the hottest tech companies in the world right now. And yet it has been facing challenges here and there. Today, I’ll talk about how I would make Uber available in airports, which it hasn’t been able to do in most cities.

Should Uber care about airports?

But before the how, should Uber even care about airports? This is basically the how big the market is question.

First of all, it fits Uber’s mission.

Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone.

Then let’s talk about money.

According to this United States Department of Transportation, in year 2015, there were in total 748,392,320 passengers landed in a US airport with either a domestic or international flight, which is roughly 2 million passengers per day. Assuming 25% of which will use taxi-like transportation, and on average 2 passenger per car, it gives us 250,000 rides per day.

In 2014, Uber claimed that it had 1 million rides per day. Assuming it doubled in year 2015, then from rides/day perspective, the potential increase is 12.5%.

Moreover, a ride from airport is usually much more expensive than a regular urban ride. Assuming on average it’s 3x, then from revenue perspective, the potential increase is 37.5%. (Uber’s 2015 revenue is around 2 billion).

Finally, since Uber is simpler and cheaper than taxi, it may drive more market by getting more rides to the airport, which will in turn increase the rides from the airport (less people drive by themselves).

So this is a pretty big deal.

How can you get Uber in airports today?

On Uber’s website, it tells you to request a ride after you land and get picked up curbside on the departure level. You’ll need to chat with the driver via phone call or SMS about which terminal and gate.

This has 2 problems:

  1. It’s not a good experience by Uber’s standard.
  2. It may piss off airports. Then they’ll fine the drivers (Uber actually covers the fine these days) or go even further to ban it.

Uber definitely knows these problems. And it has been working with airports to get them accept Uber. So far, there are airports like SFO and LAX which officially accept Uber, which is great news. And Uber can definitely improve the experience (if they haven’t) by having the mobile app recognizing you are in these airports and then ask you to enter the terminal and gate.

What and how to improve?

The current situation doesn’t mean there is no or little space to improve. Actually there is a lot space from the following 2 aspects:

  1. Getting into more airports quickly
  2. Provide better experience

To get into more airports quickly, it’s basically satisfying all key stakeholders with a few repeatable models.

  • Key stakeholders: rider, driver, airport manager, taxi driver
  • Repeatable models: the key mechanism here is how to pick up a rider

Let’s look at key stakeholders first. Rider and driver are easy so we’ll focus on airport manager and taxi driver.

What airport managers want is happier passengers without trouble.

To show that it will make passengers happier, Uber needs to present data to convince airport managers that it is efficient and highly rated.

To avoid introducing any trouble, Uber needs to work with airport managers to come up with creative ways of picking up riders (will talk more in repeatable models) so that the logistics of the airports won’t be impacted. Another big thing here is the potential push back behavior from taxi drivers (will talk more below).

What taxi drivers want is to make a better living without crazy work intensity.

Uber is known for its not-so-well relationships with taxi drivers. Taxi drivers feel that Uber is taking away their jobs with unfair advantage. The taxi drivers relationship by itself is a big topic. We’ll talk about it another time. But here it’s important to know that it will influence airport managers since the last thing they want to see is a taxi driver protest jamming the entire airport ground transportation.

To both of the above 2 points, using successful examples from Uber welcoming airports like SFO and LAX is very important. It will give other airports a lot of confidence.

Now onto repeatable models. It boils down to how to pick up riders in a way that can be applied to every airport. Let’s list all the options below:

  1. Curbside, arrival level or departure level. This is what Uber does today. It’s good in the way that it’s easy for people to find and they don’t need to walk a lot. It’s bad in the way that drivers cannot leave the car unattended so they cannot find you in person.
  2. Dedicated area, just like the taxi lane. This would be really nice for Uber but it’s going to be really hard to convince the airport managers.
  3. Offsite with free shuttle. Believe it or not, today people actually take some random hotel free shuttle off the airports and get a Uber there. But this is more like a workaround if it’s impossible to get into some airport. The experience is bad.
  4. Parking lot. This is the most interesting one to me. The idea is a driver will enter the parking lot, pay the fee (usually less than $5). Then it will use the Uber app to tell the rider which level and spot he/she is at. Since this is the parking lot. He/she can leave the car, which will make finding the rider easier. I think this will work well in airports without big parking lots. Otherwise, riders will find it’s really hard to get to his/her driver. Oh, and about the parking fee. It can be added to the bill IMHO. Most airports today charge a fee for taxi anyway. And I’d suspect SFO and LAX will charge a fee for Uber’s curbside pickup as well.

Now you have it. I hope I’ll see Uber available in many more airports soon.

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