Uber is a great service. They make catching a cab an enjoyable experience. Except in those cities where the local authority believes customer choice is a bad thing. The airport authority that runs both Dulles and Reagan airports (MWAA) is not only crooked but generally speaking a bad operator. They’ve done their best to discourage Uber in the DC market, and I ran into that when I landed at IAD yesterday evening.
I usually drive to the airport but due to the fact that I was flying out of a different airport I was returning to, it made more sense to take a cab. So, our plane landed and I mashed the “request car” button in my Uber app.
Now, Dulles already has something of an oddity when it comes to car services. The only “approved” service at Dulles is Washington Flyer. They are truly horrible. If you call another service, they are required to meet you inside the airport to pick you up and walk to their car in the hourly lot. Taken a step further, Dulles has an ultra-convenient “Arrivals” level, but no car service is allowed to pick up or drop off there. Since this was my first Uber ride at Dulles, I was a bit curious where the driver would pick me up.
He told me he would meet me on the departures level. I walked out, got in the car and we drove about 10 feet before the driver brought the car to a stop. An airport police officer was approaching us from behind the car. The driver mumbled something to me about what to say but I couldn’t quite understand him, he was speaking fast and had a bit of an accent that made it hard to hear, plus I was on the phone.
The police officer questioned the driver for a couple minutes and asked to see his manifest. Then, he had him roll down the rear window. The officer stuck his head in and asked me when I ordered the car service. I was still on a business call, so it was a bit awkward. I told him it was probably about 15 minutes ago. He asked me if I had called Uber. I told him I used the same service all the time, neither acknowledging or denying it was Uber. I was curious if he would press the issue further. He stared at me for another minute, then stood up and walked away without another word.
In total, it was probably a waste of 5 minutes, which isn’t significant. But, considering all the other things I’d prefer a police officer do at an airport to actually protect my safety, this was a colossal waste. Thank you, MWAA, for your diligent efforts to improve transportation and protect me.
It wouldn’t be so bad, but the airports are exceptionally bad at matching supply with demand when it comes to cabs. I frequently see long lines of cabs when nobody is waiting and long lines of people with no cabs at Dulles.
I don’t fly into or out of Reagan very often, but during my crazy day of flying on Sunday, I walked out of Reagan at about 12:30 am (yes, after midnight) to at least 80 or so folks in line for a cab and not one single cab in sight. View From the Wing has a partial picture of the line, as he walked out about 15 minutes after me and still saw a monster line.
I’d probably still prefer Uber even if the cab lines worked better at both airports, but since they’re a hot mess, we likely won’t ever be able to make that comparison.