Point of View

Off-Airport, 'City by the Bay' Awards and Stan ...

June, 2006

By John Van Horn

I had a long conversation the other day with a senior executive of an off-airport parking company. I had asked him to sit on a panel at PIE with some airport parking folks to discuss mutual problems. He told me he could see nothing but bad coming from the conversation. I was stunned, but understood.
The airports and off-airport operators seem locked in a death struggle, at least from the airport's point of view. The off-airport guys offer lower prices and better service, so instead of trying to compete in a free market, the airports do everything they can to make the operator's life miserable. They charge fees to "allow" them to pick up and drop off at the curb in the airports, institute onerous rules, and even attempt in some cases (see below) to seize off-airport businesses.
As usual, both sides in this fight have a point, but I think they both, and particularly the airports, are missing a big one. The off-airport operators save the airports a fortune (in construction and land acquisition costs) and provide a service that the airports, in most cases, cannot provide.
I have a commentary about this on page 30 in PT. Take time to read it and respond.
Let's be fair, however. The airports do make a lot of income off parking and they aren't going to stop doing that. Period. Nor should they. However, they do need to compete in the free market, and when they do have problems (like Chicago or DesMoines), they could look to the private sector for a quick, easy solution.


For those of you who are internet-challenged, I have begun a part of my blog for nominating municipalities for the "City by the Bay" award. The award was named for that "City by the Bay" (the one immortalized by Tony Bennett so many years ago) for its own incredible parking rules - lowering on-street pricing and raising off-street pricing, and then wondering why everyone wanted to park on-street and why off-street garages weren't filling up first.
One of my nominees was the Launceston in Tasmania. The local city dads came up with an idea to charge nothing for the first hour parking downtown, but then charge after that. Heh. It took about 10 nanoseconds for the smart Aussie shoppers to figure out that if you shopped for 59 minutes and then went out and drove to the next place you wanted to visit, you didn't have to pay for parking at all. Duh ...
Naturally, the local government got it backwards. If you are going to give something away, give away the third or fourth hour, if your goal is to keep people downtown and spending money. The plan so far has cost the local parking operation $100,000 in three months.
The other one was Phoenix. It got a nomination too.
Phoenix has a plethora of parking downtown mostly built by taxpayer money. It is also concerned that its upcoming light rail system won't be used because people are driving downtown. (I might note that on my most recent trip to the Valley of the Sun, traffic in the morning is as bad as anywhere one might visit.)
City planners walk a fine line in balancing parking and light rail. Build too little or charge too much and it benefits transit but drives away people who wouldn't or can't ride rail. Build too much or charge too little and the opposite happens. (The strange thing about this is that light rail in Phoenix is under construction and won't be completed for some time.)
That is so much balderdash. You are telling me that someone who could afford a $20,000 automobile, plus the $200 a month to keep it running, can't afford to ride the light rail. If parking charges in downtown Phoenix were set to simply pay for the cost of the garages, my guess is that the light rail would be flooded.
Phoenix has a plethora of parking now - and it is attempting to build more. If there aren't enough spaces, it's not because there aren't enough - it's because they don't cost enough.
There was one bright comment in this mess:
"You should do what you need to do to change downtown." "Portland (OR) wanted a compact, vital 24-hour downtown. You won't find one ... in the United States that is based on the automobile. If you dedicated less space for parking, land would be more valuable and more vital."
If you build it, they will come - all the cheap parking in the world won't bring people downtown


Stan Cramer is fighting for his business life. The local airport is attempting to take his business by eminent domain. There is an article about it on page 12 this month in PT. Marty Stein of the NPA says that Stan is a member of their organization and that they have assisted him numerous times with his battle. Great!!!!. Stan can use all the help he can get.
... and then they came for us.

As I write this, I am packing to head over to Vegas for the IPI. We are holding a couple of pages for PT's report of Kim Jackson's big bash. Read it elsewhere
in PT.