Since the inception of air travel, there have always been two main choices of ground transportation when travelers flew for business or pleasure. They could either take a taxi cab to their location of choice, or if they were on a tighter budget they could use the local public transportation system. It is the same in practically every country of the world. The taxi of course has taken precedence with most travelers because it is less complicated to take, requires less effort, and is quicker without the wait at the dozen stops and transfers along the way to reach a desired local address. So when a newer service in the ground transportation industry, like the airport shuttle service comes on the scene, it is often hard to fit it into what we already know.
The perception of a shuttle service is a connection in a convention center, or a hotel courtesy ride to the airport, but the industry has changed a lot in recent decades. The most recent evolution in airport shuttle service is a scheduled service in a privately owned 12 passenger van, that runs out of airports every hour or so, providing a connection to most local destinations of choice, either direct, or with very few, quick stops that do not require walking. In essence, the airport shuttle service captures the core need filled by a taxi service, providing reliable transportation to and from the airport, being simple, easy, and quick. But there are significant differences when we look at them both side by side.
Taxis are on a first come, first serve basis. Curbside taxis at the airport are usually organized and a line of passengers is formed to secure a cab. It can be very quick if there are few people, but can take a long time if there is a local event like a convention, boat show, or major concert or NBA, NHL, MLB, or NFL game. When there are great numbers of travelers flying in and requiring taxis to get around for meals and entertainment, the line of people to get a taxi at the airport is longer, and the line of taxis in cue to pick them up is shorter, so the wait could be several hours, and is somewhat unpredictable. The airport shuttle service on the other hand, requires a reservation, and is a scheduled pick up for a party with an exact amount of passengers. People requiring transportation in a hectic airport who do not have a reservation, are usually not allowed to get into a shuttle. On the flip side, when flying through an empty airport, people can find taxis available immediately as they exit baggage claim, and can find themselves waiting for another 20 minutes for their scheduled shuttle service.
The taxi service is private, where the airport shuttle service is shared. 'Private' is an industry standard term referring to the fact that there are no other passenger parties in the vehicle. The shared shuttle service is not private because a party of 3 can take up 3 seats and another two or three parties can take up the other 9 seats of the shuttle. Shuttles usually transport 2 or 3 passenger parties, and are often taking them to the same destination. Depending on personal preference, this could be a drawback for those who rather keep to themselves, or it could be an opportunity for mingling with others who have a commonality with them, whether they are in town for a vacation hotel stay, a cruise ship embarkation, or a trade show.
Shuttle services are paid as a flat rate, where taxi services are paid based on a formula of time and distance through a meter. The age old concern of not knowing what the fare will be, and having a driver will take a longer route than necessary, or find the way to sit in traffic in order to increase the fare, may be more of an urban legend in the USA than a fact. But the truth is that a flat fare gives people the peace of mind of knowing what they will pay, and considering most customers' preference of arriving quickly, it means that drivers have an incentive to deliver their passengers without delay in order to get off work sooner, and maximize the tip money they receive.
Service price and terms are also different from an airport shuttle to a taxi service. Airport shuttle services generally require a form of payment when a reservation is made, and charge the fare agreed before providing the service, where taxis take payment at the drop off point, when the final bill amount becomes known. Shared shuttle services are generally much less than taxi prices, although it is impossible to set a definitive percentage of savings because the prices of each service are based on different things. A real life example that happens very often is the couple who wish to re-kindle the romance in their relationship, and choose to take a Caribbean cruise out of the Port of Miami. They discover significant savings flying into FLL rather than MIA, and find themselves needing ground transportation from FLL to the Port of Miami. Two passengers will spend about $80 to $120 plus tip, for the approximately 30 mile one-way taxi service, depending on the season of the year and the traffic at the time of day. The Fort Lauderdale Airport shuttle service will cost from $40 to $50 plus tip, for the ground transportation for the same two people between the same two points. And there are round trip offers that make the price even lower.
For some people, having the added flexibility without a reservation is important, or using a private service, or perhaps they prefer riding in a car instead of a passenger van, and they do not mind not knowing the wait for their car, and paying a little more to reach their destination. For them, a taxi is probably the right choice. For others, having the guaranteed space, knowing the price ahead of time, reaching their destination at a predictable time, and saving money are of greater appeal. Regardless of personal preferences, the knowledge of what is behind the choice is valuable, because it allows people to understand what they are getting into.