Standing outside Terminal 2 at O’Hare International Airport, a phone in each hand, Mervyn Wright weighed the options for getting to his suburban hotel.
He finally decided on a $64 Uber ride from O’Hare to St. Charles.
“That’s it. It’s $64,” said Wright, a Virginia business strategist, relieved it wasn’t more expensive.
For flyers like Wright, racing with busy airports this summer and getting around airline cancellations and delays is only part of the way. They also need to get to and from the airport, navigate taxi or rideshare prices, CTA service, or parking.
Amid rising costs of living, travelers who choose rideshares could be in for a surprise. At the start of the summer travel season, the average cost of travel between Chicago and the areas around O’Hare or Midway airports hit or tied their highest prices since the city began collecting data in 2018.
The average cost of trips in Chicago to the census tract covered by O’Hare exceeded $60 in May and June, peaking at $60.56 in June, city data shows. A year earlier, the average cost was $55.33.
In Midway, the average cost of trips from Chicago to the airport census tract was $53.56 in June, the most recent month for which city data is available — about a dollar more than a year earlier and about the same price average in July 2021 .
The prices are largely due to labor shortages, said Joseph Schofer, an emeritus professor of civil and environmental engineering and a transportation expert at Northwestern University. Gasoline prices may be playing a role, but the rise in ride-sharing costs predates the jump in gas prices, he said.
“The risk, the challenge and the difficulty of doing these driving jobs is such that a significant number of people have decided, ‘this doesn’t work for me,'” he said. “And so you have scarcity, and you have uncertainties.”
Drivers must weigh the possibility of crime, COVID-19 and the uncertainty of how much their next fare will be and when it will arrive, he said. And that uncertainty can also be transferred to passengers.
On a Friday night in June, Schofer checked his Uber app after landing in O’Hare and the price for a ride to his north suburban home was around $85. He checked again minutes later, after getting off the plane and walking through the terminal, and the price was closer to $40, he reminded himself.
Schofer said she has also faced challenges at times getting a cab from her home to O’Hare. Taxi drivers also face the same challenges as rideshare drivers, sitting at the airport and waiting for their next fare to make up for the waiting time, he said.
Taxi prices don’t always fluctuate in the same way that rideshares do. In the case of taxis licensed by the City of Chicago, those who stop at an airport taxi stand must activate their meter and charge no more than a meter or a meter and a half, depending on the destination. City taxis called through an app can offer dynamic prices in advance, including prices above the metered fare.
But some travelers are reaching their limits when it comes to what they’ll pay to get to or from the airport, whether by taxi or ride-sharing.
“I won’t pay $50 for a ride,” said Stanley Pierre, a 29-year-old truck driver who came to the city of Miami to pick up his truck.
“I mean, it’s supposed to be cheaper than a taxi, right?” asked Stanley, a former Uber driver. “The goal was to make it more affordable for riders who take rideshares… $50 would be a taxi ride.”
Koray Yesilli, who arrived to welcome his visiting brother and planned to take a carpool back to the city, also had a limit on how much he was willing to spend on a trip.
“If it was $75 to $100 from here to Lakeview, I wouldn’t pay it!” he said.
Lyft’s airport rides represent a growing amount of business for the company across the country. Airport trips accounted for 10.2% of total trips in the second quarter, the highest share ever, Lyft CEO Logan Green said during an earnings call in early August.
Travelers who choose other options to get to the airport may face other obstacles.
The CTA Orange and Blue Lines serve Midway and O’Hare, but the agency has faced complaints about the amount of service running and the train travel experience. And commuters driving to O’Hare can sometimes find the cheap parking lots full.
When economy lots are full, which is especially likely during holiday weekends, parking attendants direct drivers to the nearest available parking lot and a limited number of coupons are distributed for the main lot on a first-come, first-served basis, according to parking space, said Kevin Bargnes, a spokesman for the city’s aviation department. He encouraged drivers to check the status of parking lots online and said reserved parking is available in some lots.
Construction has also reduced available parking in Lot D at O’Hare, near Terminal 5. Work began in June on a six-story parking lot that is expected to double the amount of parking in the terminal when completed in 2024. The terminal is undergoing an overhaul that is adding new gates and passenger services space, among other work.
O’Hare commuters being picked up or dropped off along the lower level roadway near Terminals 1, 2 and 3 have been met with utility and paving work, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks. with little effect on traffic during that time, Bargnes said.
Schofer doesn’t expect the challenges of getting to or from the airport to dampen travel demand, after two years of pent-up demand.
Perhaps instead, he said, travelers will leave their homes sooner or choose to fly at times when their options for getting to and from the airport are more predictable. They might turn to ways of getting around they hadn’t previously considered, like taking a Pace bus or carpooling.
“There is chaos in the system,” he said. “There is an upturn in a situation that is very different from what we have experienced in the last two years. And recovery is a struggle, because people (who were driving for ride-sharing companies) got used to not doing the jobs they used to do.”