One Family’s Post-COVID Transportation Diary

By John Halpin | Account Supervisor

Because HMH is a transportation marketing company, we’re excited (and relieved) that much of the world has started to resume using modes of transportation that were relatively idle over the past year or so.

With that said, what will post-COVID transportation look like? Studies like this one and news reports like this one have plenty of information about short- and long-term impacts.

I got a glimpse recently during my first family vacation since the pandemic began. My wife and our two kids (ages 17 and 13) visited Southern California, with stops in San Diego, Dana Point and Santa Monica. Along the way, our tiny focus group encountered many modes of transportation – some uneventful, and others uneven.

Air transportation, Part One

Communication regarding our scheduled July 3 flight from Charlotte to San Diego began a few days before the trip, with an e-mail from American Airlines suggesting that we arrive at the airport three hours prior to departure due to congestion at security checkpoints. We parked our car 1:45 before the flight, and were at the gate 40 minutes after that (even without TSA Precheck). Sooooooo easy. Maybe because it was a Saturday?

The outbound flight was delayed by approximately 45 minutes. Masks were required (eating and drinking excepted) for the entire four hour, 45-minute flight, which was full. This experience felt … normal.

On the ground in Cali

San Diego International Airport was easy to navigate on Saturday evening with our carry-on luggage. We walked outside the terminal, and immediately hailed a taxi for the 10-minute ride to our hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter, where we ate dinner and got a good night’s sleep. Was transportation always going to be this easy?

Rideshare blues

Nope! Sunday’s plan included a visit to Coronado Island. And since we had opted against a rental car for this leg of the trip (more on that later), Uber and Lyft would be at our beck and call. Or so we thought.

Multiple attempts on both platforms by my wife and I included seemingly endless messages saying “attempting to locate a driver” and prices that fluctuated significantly. The result was a 45-minute wait for an Uber. A first world problem? Of course, but the rideshare companies didn’t have this shortcoming pre-COVID. Hopefully, the issue will resolve itself soon.

Before the afternoon excursion, I went for a morning run (#humblevacationexercisebrag). I observed that if you want a job in San Diego, it appears that many are available for people who collect scooters near local bars on weekend mornings, and return them to “scooter corrals.” Those things were scattered everywhere, like locusts. Scooter chaos has apparently been a problem for the city.

The 12:05 to SNC

We left San Diego for Orange County on Monday. And since we still didn’t have a car, we chose Amtrak for the journey north. The Pacific Surfliner hugs the California coast for 351 miles between San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot and the city of San Luis Obispo. We exited the train at San Juan Capistrano – home of possibly the cutest train station in America – after almost 90 minutes.

We at HMH spend plenty of time on content related to our passion for the “Future of Transportation” – electric vehicles, logistics technology, etc. Heck, I host a podcast about FoT. But this old-school mode of transportation was probably the coolest thing we did all week. Friendly and efficient service, a new experience for the kids, a generous snack box that included Buffalo Chicken Jerky of all things, and an unbeatable view of the Pacific Ocean for an hour. All for $29 per ticket.

The O.C.

Three days in Orange County, and still not renting a car? Californians must be laughing hysterically at me by this point.

More Uber/Lyft availability issues emerged when trying to get from the train station to our hotel. We couldn’t locate a car for close to an hour, and one Uber driver literally canceled as he approached us (my Uber rating is excellent – I promise!).

Because the streets near the San Juan Capistrano depot are so small and adorable, they’re also difficult to escape. I literally ran down the truck, showed the driver his face on my Uber app through a closed window, and insisted that he drive us. Which he did – for cash.

At that point, we thought leaving our hotel at all would be a challenge. But then we discovered the open-air Laguna Beach Trolley. The trolley runs every 15 minutes between Dana Point and Laguna Beach during the summer, and it’s FREE. We used it twice, and it was as fast as a car would have been. A mode of transportation that I had never even thought of? Score!

Finally…a car of our own

On Thursday, we left Dana Point for Santa Monica, and our rideshare morass parted like the Red Sea. We prescheduled a Lyft for a ride to LAX. When we changed the drop-off spot in mid-ride from the airport terminal to the adjacent Avis rental car location, the price of the ride fell by $30 for unknown reasons. Our driver, Anthony, got us there in just over an hour. It was a Golden State miracle!

Oh, yeah … the rental car. A few weeks before the trip, I looked into getting a car for the entire vacation. The rates started at $150 per day for a midsize car. I got frustrated at this widespread problem that seems to be a primary driver of inflation, and explored the alternative modes of transport detailed above.

About a week before the trip, the rental car prices had dropped by about half for no apparent reason. Time to get a car, right? But my son looked at me sadly and said, “I thought we were taking the train?” So we did, and decided to wait for our final destination to rent a very reasonably priced Nissan Altima. It served us well in Santa Monica and on the once-again crowded Los Angeles freeways.

As to why the rental car price dropped when that seems to be a rampant problem, maybe it’s because we got it at a major airport. Overall, we still saved money by using multimodal transport for the week.

Micromobility at the end of Route 66

Santa Monica’s recently launched shared mobility pilot program was evident, with ubiquitous scooters and e-bikes. Both seemed like a popular way to see the 22-mile beachfront bike trail.

AIR TRANSPORTATION, PART TWO

At 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, our rental car return at LAX was quick, and we got through airport security in less than 10 minutes for an on-time flight. The airport horror stories you’ve heard about did not affect us. Just lucky, perhaps.

Did we learn anything about post-COVID transportation from this trip? Well, I wouldn’t rely on rideshare companies for timely service just yet. I wouldn’t dismiss rental cars before checking prices, no matter how bad the news reports sound. And after seeing me chase down that Uber driver, my family saw that I’m not as slow and old as they thought.