Increased Uber and Lyft traffic, along with the construction work causing lane closures and detours, has contributed to congestion on airport roads and delays for motorists and passengers who rely on shuttles.
While there is a Plane Train beyond the security checkpoints to whisk ticketed passengers between terminals and concourses, outside of the airport there is no train to carry people between the international and domestic terminals.
Instead, the airport relies on terminal-to-terminal shuttle buses to transport arriving international passengers to the domestic terminal where the MARTA station sits or to return to their parked cars on that side of the airport.
The International Terminal created a second front door to the airport on the east side of Hartsfield-Jackson when it opened more than a decade ago. The shuttle service has prompted periodic complaints ever since.
As summer travel picks up, passengers have taken to social media and letters to the editor of this newspaper to complain.
“There’s intolerable delays,” said James Morey, an Emory University professor in the English Department who travels to London and Dublin for work. When the bus comes, “there are more people who want to get on than can get on. It’s just really unpleasant. Everyone’s loaded with bags.”
“I don’t know why there aren’t enough buses,” Morey said. “There’s got to be a better way.”
In response to a question about the long shuttle waits, Hartsfield-Jackson said it “constantly monitors systems in an effort to improve efficiency and provide the best in customer service. We work with all of our partners to ensure those systems are operating at optimum efficiency.”
The contract for the terminal-to-terminal shuttles covers buses connecting the international terminal to the domestic terminal and rental car center.
The company that operates the shuttles, A-National Limousine, has had the contract since 2017, near the end of former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s second term. A-National’s president is Darrell Anderson, a longtime family friend of Reed. The two, along with other investors, owned property together. Anderson’s daughter also works as a director of legislation and contract administration in the Atlanta Department of Transportation, according to a disclosure report.
A contracting process for a new shuttle contractor began in 2020 but was canceled due to the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the airport. The contract with A-National was renewed, through 2021 and 2022.
A-National’s contract was due to expire at the end of last year. But the city of Atlanta’s contracting process has been delayed, prompting an extension of A-National’s contract through this year.
“A-National continues to perform services in a satisfactory manner,” says an Atlanta City Council resolution approved last week to extend the contract.
An A-National spokesman said service delays are due to congestion around the airport, construction around the domestic terminal blocking off lanes and staffing issues similar to those faced by many companies — adding that it can take 30-40 minutes to navigate the airport roads during busy periods.
The congestion on airport roads can back up for long distances, causing delays for people picking up and dropping off passengers at the terminal along with taxis, shuttles and other vehicles.
Last October, the City Council approved a six-month contract extension for A-National to allow more time for the contracting process.
That’s because in June 2022, A-National and two other companies submitted proposals to compete for the contract, but all three submissions were “deemed non-responsive” due to failure to submit required documentation, meaning they were disqualified.
It’s an issue that has plagued the city’s procurement process for many years, with many proposals disqualified for forms filled out incorrectly.
It wasn’t until this year that the contract was rebid, with five companies submitting proposals in April: A-National, ABM Aviation, LAZ Parking, Horizon Motor Coach and SP Plus Corp.
Last week, City Council approved another six-month extension for A-National as the proposals are considered.
The A-National contract was originally expected to cost the airport $3.35 million to $3.65 million per year in the first three years that ran through 2020.
Then in 2020, the city council approved the addition of $5.15 million for the initial three-year term. The airport at the time said the cost increases were due to the addition of more fuel-efficient and larger vehicles than were previously required, which required higher wages and more insurance.
A one-year extension through 2021 cost $5.35 million, and a second one-year extension cost $5.5 million.
Credit: Ben Gray
Credit: Ben Gray
Increased labor and fuel expenses drove higher costs, according to A-National.
The two six-month extensions for this year are each approved to cost about $3.23 million, or about $6.5 million for the full year. The airport said it’s “not uncommon for pricing for a six-month period to be at a higher expense than a long term where costs can be spread out over time.”
Penny Hall of Athens wrote a letter to the editor published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on June 20 saying “It took us an hour and 45 minutes to get onto a bus to the domestic terminal!”
She was told by an airport worker that shuttles get caught up the traffic on the airport roads.
“We were appalled and embarrassed by the pathetic transportation,” Hall added.