$80 for eight-minute Uber ride? What's driving high rideshare prices and low availability

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A line of some two dozen or so taxi cabs wait for passengers at the LAX-it lot at LAX. Photo by Benjamin Gottlieb.

John Nichols told his wife he would do pretty much anything besides pay the $80 Uber quoted him for a ride after he landed at LAX.

“The rideshare s*** is ridiculous now,” said Nichols, who works for Yahoo as a creative producer and director. “You would see me like a ‘Compton Cowboy’ on a horse riding down Sepulveda before I pay 80 bucks for a seven, eight minute ride.”

Nichols is among a growing number of passengers reporting long wait times for Uber and Lyft rides at the relatively new LAX-it lot as traffic at LAX picks up heading into summer. In April of this year (the most recent numbers available), some 3 million-plus people made their way through LAX, still less than half of what’s typical but way above numbers from April 2020. 

But as air travel ramps up, rideshare availability is lagging behind. 

Tom Napora, who’s visiting from Poland, said he was waiting for an hour at the LAX-it lot one recent weekday evening and still had not caught a ride: “You arrive in LA, you hope you’re going to get a good experience and you’re just waiting. The sun is [setting] and I’m still waiting.”

A combination of factors is to blame for the lack of rideshare cars doing pickups at LAX, said Esterphanie St. Juste with Rideshare Drivers United, a drivers group based in Los Angeles. She said many drivers couldn’t eke out a living during the pandemic when demand cratered. Even as things begin to pick up again, St. Juste said companies like Uber and Lyft removed features such as premium pay for airport runs that incentivized drivers.

“When I started, I was getting paid $1.20 per mile,” said St. Juste, who used to drive an UberXL. “Now you're making 32 cents. It doesn't make sense, and not only that, it's humiliating. They're telling you that you're not worth anything.”

St. Juste said it wasn’t uncommon to make two or three times the going rate for a ride out of LAX, a bonus that’s no longer available. 

Both Uber and Lyft declined on-the-record interviews with KCRW. Uber did not respond to questions about driver pay or the lack of cars at LAX. But in a statement posted to Twitter, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote, “Yes, you are probably paying more for rides, but drivers are getting a HIGHER cut of the fare hike.” His comments were in response to an article by the Washington Post.

A spokesperson for Lyft told KCRW in an email the company has “added thousands of drivers in the past few weeks and it’s already leading to a better rider experience with wait times down more than 15% nationwide,” but failed to give LAX-specific numbers. 

But for travelers like Lindsay Johnson, all you have to do is land at LAX to see that there’s a supply chain issue. She landed with her partner Joshua Whidden recently after a trip to wine country and said she now expects to wait at least 30 minutes for a ride, if not more.

“I feel like this is just the new normal for rideshare,” Johnson said while waiting to be matched with a Lyft driver. “I mean, I can deal with waiting a little bit but … if I'm traveling for work anytime soon, I would just take a cab. I think it's just easier.”

And she’s not alone. Other frustrated travelers unwilling to wait for an Uber or Lyft are turning to taxis, said Leon Slomovich, the president of the Taxi Worker Association of Los Angeles. He said there has been an uptick in rides from LAX but not enough to offset years of market share loss.

“You simply can’t compete with companies that are able to subsidize trips and lose billions of dollars a year to gain market share,” Slomovich said.

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