LA Wants To Give Priority Security To People Who Ride Public Transit. That’s Silly.

Los Angeles is is considering letting people who take public transit to the airport have priority security. This isn’t PreCheck or CLEAR, just priority line access for the regular security queue, and follows a program at Boston Logan for people who take a shuttle bus or ferry to the airport.

Priority security isn’t actually free, in other words it isn’t costless. “When everybody’s priority, nobody is.” Grant everyone priority and they’re behind everyone else who is also priority that got there first. The unsigned editorial asks, “Why not let the hoi polloi join VIPs at the front of the line?” Priority doesn’t mean fast when you hand out substantially more priority slots. TSA isn’t staffing more lanes, in fact there’s a hiring freeze at TSA.

The LA Times supports the idea suggesting that “[f]ront-of-the-line service is..a more egalitarian way to discourage driving to LAX than, say, congestion pricing [charging cars more].” Not really, in one case cars pay in cash the other they pay with their time (being behind more people in the security line, the transit riders who get to jump in front of them). Either way you’re taxing people who drive.

The real problems to solve are airport security (theater) queues, and why public transport isn’t sufficiently attractive in the first place. The piece notes “after ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft were permitted to serve the airport, ridership on buses and shuttles plummeted” yet it fails to ask why that is.

(HT: Ryan)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This would be very good public policy: reward those who try to minimize their footprint, encouraging others to do the same. Penalise those whose extravagant premium cabin seating is damaging the planet. It’s a great idea .

  2. @Paolo – this punishes coach passengers who didn’t arrive via public transit (say, they took a shared hotel shuttle van) even more than premium cabin passengers

  3. Gary, you hit the nail on the head. Why is LA not figuring out why people don’t take mass transit in the first place? Maybe it takes 3x as long? Maybe it ends up costing the same as rideshare once parking at the station? Maybe it’s difficult to take with luggage and kids in tow? Maybe it’s just unpleasant to be on compared to the cocoon of your own car?

  4. Once again LA politicians are passing the buck instead of owning up to facts. City leaders should be improving public transit options available to/from the airport rather than offering “bribes”.

  5. It’s a great idea. I totally support it. I also support congestion pricing in tandem with this.

  6. There were letters to the LA Times today about this subject. The comments were you can’t take public transit to LAX.

  7. What should be done is to honor Bernie Sanders. If you are rich, then you will be held back for a mere 15-20 minutes while the poor people go through. If you have PreCheck, then maybe 7-10 minute detention.

  8. I have an idea! Let your ride or Uber or whatever drop you off on Century Blvd. Then take a bus for a few blocks. Presto! You came in by public transit and get municipal Clear-like treatment.

  9. Like the idea, and don’t get the arguments against.

    Yes, it’s easy to complain “wahhh, CA politicians stink, fix public transit!!!” like people aren’t already attempting to do so…Anything to encourage people to public/more sustainable transport is a win for society. It’s not about punishing people, Gary, it’s about encouraging new/different/positive externality-creating behavior.

  10. “The piece notes “after ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft were permitted to serve the airport, ridership on buses and shuttles plummeted” yet it fails to ask why that is.”

    It’s at least in good part because we don’t sufficiently tax the externality-causing environmentally harmful transit such as private driving and all flying, and then use those tax dollars to subsidize public transit infrastructure the way we subsidize roads.

    Yet I somehow doubt Gary is one to support a higher personal tax burden to fund an effective metro system.

  11. The more queues you have, the longer the overall wait times will be. It’s basic queuing theory. So bravo, LAX, let’s fix your lack of screening capacity by increasing overall wait times!

    It’s similar thinking to California’s ubiquitous carpool lanes. Create artificial traffic jams to reward the preferred people…and of course the law breakers…and overall trip times and emissions go up.

    These solutions are more about making people in California feel smug and self righteous, not actually accomplishing anything.

    Those actually trying to minimize their footprint are not going to the airport. The impact of the trip to the airport on the overall emissions of your trip is minuscule. Way to solve the big problems!

  12. @derek, I doubt chatting with a stranger on the bus ride to LAX is what Bernie has in mind for America becoming more Socialized…

  13. What about people who arrive internationally by air and have to enter another terminal, travel by a shuttle bus from a hotel (after staying there or parking a car at a hotel parking lot) or just connecting between different terminals?
    Finally, what about people with compromised immune systems who are concerned of catching corona virus or just flu when taking public bus/train?

  14. LA doesn’t want to give priority to public transport users. There is only a motion to study the feasibility of doing so. If such a plan is adopted, to get the full benefit, priority for public transport riders must include Priority, PreCheck and CLEAR not just general security.

    Even though those who decide not to take public transit to the airport will suffer from longer wait times in security if the plan is adopted, at a minimum they and everyone else arriving or departing LAX will benefit from less traffic and congestion.

  15. Spoken by a man that’s freaked out by hotel toiletries.

    I applaud this. I know public transport isn’t great at LAX but I’ve taken the bus from Santa Monica before with no incidents (or queues).

    And Boston is great for public transport. To be honest, I don’t quite understand why you WOULDN’T take public transport.

    Get off your lazy arses and do some walking.

  16. @alex_77W

    “Finally, what about people with compromised immune systems who are concerned of catching corona virus or just flu when taking public bus/train?”

    Then they shouldn’t be getting into an enclosed metal tube for x hours, should they?

    Very poor argument.

  17. Ok, Boomer.

    Gary… it’s LA. People who drive must be “taxed” (whether through tolls or their time) to encourage public transit use. Grow up.

  18. As a matter of public policy, we should tax drivers more. Roads have a much larger public subsidy than transit.

    “Public transport isn’t sufficiently attractive in the first place” because it doesn’t have nearly the level of public investment compared to seven decades of federal and state road subsidies.

  19. This is a really good initiative. Our entire society is built on a subsidy for drivers. We should welcome any plan like this that provides incentives for transit use to airports. I think more airports with direct rail links (ORD; MDW; ATL; SFO; DCA, etc) should do this!

  20. If a government wants to provide rewards for using public transport, that could be useful to me. But the proverbial devil is in the details as some rewards may be unnecessary, over-sized and not valued by those who are intended to be the recipients of such reward of sort. I am not sure that an airport security screening fast track lane for airport public transit users is necessarily that, but I am also not sure that it isn’t.

  21. Surprised to see this post! As others have pointed out in the comments, driving is heavily subsidized in America and LAX is no exception. We built roads and subsidize parking (no matter how much you complain about parking costs they are still subsidized and you are not pulling the full cost!), to say nothing of the congestion. It’s incredibly inefficient, bad for the environment, and take up space. Right now those who don’t drive are paying for people who do. This is a step in the right direction to re-apportion how people get to the airport. BUT I do see your point that we’re not adding security capacity.

  22. This approach IS much more egalitarian than congestion pricing. In fact, congestion pricing isn’t egalitarian at all.

    While it is true that congestion pricing makes it more expensive for everyone, it is an expense much more easily afforded by those with greater wealth. To put it bluntly, congestion pricing gives those with more money another way to buy privilege.

    In contrast, everyone pays exactly the same price to ride public transportation. Granted, it may cost people more time, but it costs EVERY person more time. That said, everyone riding public transportation will end up saving some time by getting priority. While this could end up making the benefit received (line priority) a bit less of a benefit, it could also end up reducing traffic congestion for all those who still choose to arrive via cars or vans. So it’s potentially a win for public transportation riders AND car riders alike.

    This idea is pretty much the dictionary definition of an egalitarian approach to reducing traffic at the airport. It gives everyone the freedom to choose which method of travel works best for them, rather than, as I’ve said, giving the wealthiest another way to buy privilege.

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