kentucky derby infield - creative commons
This is just a fraction of the people 100,000-plus people who will need to get to and from Churchill Downs on Oaks and Derby. | Photo via Creative Commons

Getting to and from Churchill Downs on Oaks Day and Derby Day can be an adventure — roads are closed; parking is scarce and pricey; and there aren’t enough taxi drivers in the city to fill the need.

People attending the Oaks or the Derby need to factor in plenty of travel time and consider their options for transportation. Parking at Churchill Downs is sold in advance, and it’s seemingly too late to secure a space on site, according to Churchill Down’s website.

On both days, Central Avenue from Crittenden Drive to Taylor Boulevard is closed to unauthorized traffic, creating a traffic jam surrounding the track. People braving the crowds, which exceeded 170,000 attendees last year, have a few options.

The first is a taxi or rider-sharing service — Lyft, Taxi 7, Uber or Yellow Cab to name a few — but expect to wait.

“This city gets crazy at Derby time,” said Brittney Maher, marketing manager for Taxi 7. “There is just not enough cars anywhere, in any fleet, to hold all the people who need rides. …There are just so many people and not enough safe rides.”

Taxi 7 is working with Yellow Cab to create taxi chutes at Third Street and Central Avenue where riders can grab a cab, she said.

Lyft and Uber drivers also will be on call for anyone with the mobile apps for those services.

Uber noted in an email to app users that customers should double-check the pick-up spot. “Limited cell service due to heavy crowds increase the chances that your app will default to thinking you’re somewhere you’re not,” the email reads.

The Uber app was opened more than 100,000 times during the Kentucky Derby last year, and the company expects record demand this year, an Uber representative told Insider Louisville.

In the email to customers, Uber suggested riders request a driver away from large crowds and proffered the pick-up locations below. For safety reasons, riders also should double check the driver’s name and license plate to make sure they are getting in the right car, the email stated.

This map shows where Uber suggests users call a ride. | Map courtesy of Uber
This map shows where Uber suggests users call a ride. | Map courtesy of Uber

However, Lyft and Uber users must be cautious of surge pricing. Both companies alert users about surges that can double, triple or even quintuple the cost of a ride, and have a way for customers to see the estimated cost of a ride before committing. Because of the high demand, Uber also charges an additional $1.50 event fee.

First-time Lyft users can save $5 off their first 10 rides with the promotion code “THEDERBY16.” Depending on the surge pricing, however, the $5 may not make a dent in the cost.

Due to personal experience (read: poor choice) at the Louisville St. Patrick’s Day parade this year, I know rides at big events can cost in excess of $130 if using a ride-sharing app, and that event draws mere thousands, not more than 100,000 like the Derby.

On the flip side, traditional taxi service rates are regulated by Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government. Taking a traditional taxi eliminates any variable pricing, but on Derby weekend, the rate is different if you take the cab home versus to a hotel or restaurant — and it can still be pricey.

People headed to a residence from Churchill Downs or vice versa pay a metered fare. The fare is $4.70 for one mile, and $2.25 for each additional mile, according to metro government’s website. An added $3 per passenger may also be charged if there are five or more passengers.

However, anyone taking a taxi to or from a hotel, restaurant or bar is charged a higher rate, called an entertainment rate. The rate starts at $14.75 for one mile and goes up incrementally to $95.25 for 30 miles. (See full rate sheet below.) The higher rate only applies from 6 p.m. May 5 to 6 a.m. May 9.

Any taxi rides from downtown to the Louisville International Airport also are a maximum of $25 during that window.

Maher noted that Taxi 7 has partnered with Brown-Forman’s Old Forester brand this year to offer riders $10 off from May 4-8 to encourage people not to drink and drive. To redeem the discount, customers must enter the promotion code “OLDFORESTER” in the Taxi 7 app.

Another alternative is to pack friends and family into a car and drive yourself. However, a designated driver is a must.

In the neighborhood surrounding Churchill Downs, people are willing to let drivers pay to park their cars in their driveways and on their lawns for a price. If you’re good, you also can find free parking, but either way, it can be quite the hike to Churchill Downs.

Ladies, if you want to wear heels, make sure you pack flip-flops or flats for the trip. Walking blocks in stilettos is a recipe for foot cramps and blisters.

However, if you don’t want to trust your car in the hands of a stranger, Churchill Downs suggests that drivers park at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for $20 or at the Kentucky Exposition Center for $8. Race goers can either walk from those parking lots or pay an additional $15 for a round-trip ride on Miller Transportation’s shuttle buses. The shuttle runs from 7:30 a.m to 8:30 p.m. both days.

Miller also is offering a shuttle from downtown Louisville for $20 round-trip. The downtown pick-up points are the parking garages near Third and Jefferson streets and Third and Broadway. The service also picks riders up at the Galt House Hotel parking garage.

2016 Derby Rates by insiderlouisville

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]