We recently noted that Uber is having an effect on more than just the taxi companies it competes with. Because the taxi-ride-sharing app makes getting from A to B without a car so much easier, it’s making commuters think they ought to move into cheaper neighborhoods that they previously would never have considered.
I visited Uber’s corporate HQ in San Francisco this week to see what else the company is cooking, and what else about our lives Uber might change.
It turns out that Uber is interested in airports. (Before you get too excited, we won’t be seeing “Uber Helicopter” anytime soon. I asked — the answer is no.)
However, Uber is looking at ways that transportation in and around airports might be changed in such a way that — in theory — airports could carry more passengers, more efficiently.
You’ve probably noticed that when you arrive at an airport, there is a traffic jam of parked cars in front of the terminal as people unload their bags out of taxis, and the empty cabs pull away. Airport statisticians care about this bottleneck, and refer to it as “curb churn.”
Basically, the time it takes to get to the curb, unload a passenger, and get that passenger into the airport terminal adds to the overall time it takes to get all passengers through the airport and onto a plane. The longer any part of that process is, the fewer passengers any given airport can handle. Reduce “curb churn” and you’ll make airports quicker for everyone by increasing their capacity. (Airlines will also be able to add more flights, too.)
Curb churn is exacerbated because half the cars arrive “empty” — taxis looking for passengers — and the other half of cars leave “empty” — people who dropped off their loved ones at the airport. That’s a lot of empty seats going in and out of airports. In the traditional taxi business, they have a term of art for this, too. It’s called “dead-heading” or making a “dry run” — a ride without a passenger back to a place where there are more passengers.
Uber believes it can solve the dead head/dry run problem. People taking their friends to the airport can switch on their Uber driver’s app and take a passenger home, for a fee. The company is talking to airports to see if facilities for Uber drivers and riders can be improved to increase supply and demand for Uber around airports.
In the future, airports may even want to redesign some of their pickup and drop-off areas to accommodate Uber cars, I’m told.