Back-Seat Driver

Uber drivers having a ‘field’ day at airport

Uber driver David Vasquez, parked just off airport grounds, arranges a ride for an arriving passenger.
Uber driver David Vasquez, parked just off airport grounds, arranges a ride for an arriving passenger. The Sacramento Bee

Earlier this month, Sacramento International Airport officials signed an agreement with Uber, the smartphone app-based transportation company, to allow its drivers to pick up passengers at the airport.

But there is a catch: To avoid congestion and jostling at the terminals, Uber drivers are not allowed to wait on the airport grounds to pick up a ride. They can only enter airport property when they get a ping on their cellphone telling them a flier is requesting a ride.

So, where do they wait? Groups of them have been parking next to fields at the south end of airport property, at a dead end south of the Interstate 5 interchange, checking their phones and often chatting.

Uber drivers say they have to be in a geographic “zone” near the pick-up place in order to be pinged, and this was the closest place, two minutes from the terminals.

“If we waited in Natomas, that’s 12 minutes away, and people don’t want to wait that long,” said Uber driver Manuel Garza, sitting in his car on gravel next to Bayou Way on Friday.

It all seems kind of ad hoc. But we haven’t heard any complaints yet. Airport spokeswoman Laurie Slothower said airport officials aren’t concerned about the Uber cluster, as long as drivers obey traffic laws.

Notably, she said, if an Uber driver comes onto airport property without being called, the driver becomes electronically invisible to Uber and thus cannot be called to pick up a ride.

On Friday morning, when we visited, drivers weren’t staying long at Camp Uber. Cellphones were pinging every minute, a sign that Uber is increasing in popularity among airport users.

“It was slow at first, but we’re starting to get more riders now,” said driver Amber Quiliza, a mother who typically does her Uber driving when her kids are at school. “We don’t wait long.”

Light rail low-riders

Some riders have noticed that the new light rail stations on the Blue Line in South Sacramento are designed differently from most existing stations. It’s an indication of an interesting change ahead.

Currently, at most Sacramento light rail stations, the tracks are at street or pedestrian level, allowing people to walk across them. The tracks at the new stations are about a foot lower than the platform. That’s because Sacramento Regional Transit expects over the next decade or so to replace its existing train fleet with “low-floor” cars.

The existing trains have four steep and frankly forbidding steps riders must climb in the car to get to the seating area. Cities are moving to a new generation of trains that have low floors with no entry steps. We’ve ridden the low-floor trains in other cities. The difference is huge. Wheelchair users can roll right in from the sidewalk or platform.

The costs are extensive, though, officials say, and the transition likely will take years.