For shuttle services, taxis and limousines, the new rules banning cars inside Los Angeles International Airport in the wake of the catastrophic events of Sept. 11 have proven to be a mixed blessing.
Though all businesses transporting passengers to and from the airport saw their revenues nosedive in the first few days after the attacks as the nation's air travel system was frozen, some shuttle and limo services began to recover last week.
"We're now about 10 percent busier than we were before (the attacks)," said George Badden, a dispatcher with Checker Shuttle Service, a small L.A.-area shuttle serving LAX. "Our phones are ringing off the hook with people wanting to know if our shuttle service will be easier for them than following the new rules and going out to those remote lots."
Others, however, were still reeling as cancellations mounted and the overall pool of travelers had shrunk.
"Since the attacks, we've lost anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent of our business," said Roman Lukach, president of Concord Limo Inc. which gets three-fourths of its revenues from service to and from LAX. "It's actually gotten worse over the last couple days," he said late last week.
He added that business was also down about 20 percent or so at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, although that's only a tiny part of his overall revenue.
Lukach said he believed his service could hold out only two or three more weeks at these levels before having to make cutbacks.
Continued slowdowns could keep companies and drivers from making payments on their insurance premiums, further jeopardizing service.Falloff outweighs access
Super Shuttle International, by far the largest shuttle operator at LAX, reported its revenues had fallen about 25 percent.
"We're looking for shuttle traffic to decrease even further in coming weeks," said Richard Powers, general manager for Super Shuttle Los Angeles. "The falloff in the total number of passengers is far outweighing any benefits we might see from being allowed closer access to the airport."
But over at Super Shuttle's largest competitor, Prime Time Shuttle, passenger counts have ticked up in recent days, after a sharp plunge of 40 percent from pre-attack levels.
"We're managing to hold our own," said Kent Taylor, director of sales and marketing for Prime Time. "There's no question that people are choosing now to leave their cars at home and take our shuttle service."
Taylor said he hoped the new rules would be in place for a substantial amount of time, which would allow Prime Time to recover some of its lost revenue. He noted that Burbank and Ontario airports, where cars can pull up to the curb and park at adjacent parking lots, business has remained off 20 percent to 30 percent from pre-attack levels.
Meanwhile, officials at Airport Express Limousine Inc. reported similar results at LAX last week. "Our business was off 40 to 50 percent during that first week; now it's only off about 25 percent from pre-attack levels," said company owner Rony Vada. "We expect to recover to pre-attack levels of passengers; we just don't know how long that's going to take."
Vada said the new rules were actually hurting his business, primarily because limos are no longer allowed to park inside the parking structures at LAX.
"Taxicabs have their own staging area at the airport, while we now cannot park inside, either at the curb or in the lots," Vada said.
Los Angeles World Airport officials confirmed this new rule, saying it complies with new Federal Aviation Administration regulations banning parked vehicles within 300 feet of a terminal.
"Limos are allowed to come into the airport and drop off passengers, but other than that, they are now being treated just as cars are," said LAWA spokesman Harold Johnson. As to whether this rule was temporary or permanent, Johnson said that, like all the other rules regarding airport access in the wake of the terrorist attacks, it was up to federal authorities.
But if taxicabs now receive preferential treatment compared to limos, it hasn't made any positive difference to one major taxicab operator.
"Our business is off about 70 percent since the attacks," said Alex Boym, vice president of Independent Taxi Co., which has a fleet of 360 vehicles in the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. "Our business had already been slowing thanks to the slowing economy and, earlier in the year, the threat of rolling blackouts that kept some people away. Now we're seeing a whole spate of canceled business meetings and other fallout."
Boym said he wasn't sure whether his drivers would be able to meet their insurance payments next month. (Each Independent Taxi Co. driver owns and operates his or her own vehicle.)
"So far, they are hanging in there," he said. "The drivers, many of whom are immigrants, all believe they will survive this. They trust the government and they trust our system here in the U.S."
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