OK Don, the gloves come off


OK Don, the gloves come off

I saw my buddy Don Breme from PDX yesterday at the Smart Parking Conference in San Jose. More about the conference later.  Don was chiding me about my comments that off airport parking is better than on airport parking.

I have said in the past and hold this position that its more convenient for me to park in an off airport lot (or garage) and have my car valeted and be delivered directly to my terminal than it is to park in a 5000 car lot across the street from the terminal – schlep my bags in freezing cold or scorching heat down endless aisles, up elevators across bridges, and down elevators to get to the same place where the bus dropped me off. On return to reverse the process only to have to wait in long lines to pay and exit.;

Don says that’s the airports problem. He says that at his Portland parking Garden of Eden you park and walk to the terminal, sure, but when you leave you pay at the POF and then simply drive out, with virtually no waiting. The process takes seconds. Much less time, he says, than it takes to wait for the shuttle and drive to get your car. And time is money, and time is service.

You know he has a point — I guess I’m jaded because LAX is such a mess when it comes to on airport parking. Don says that he is definitely a competitor with the off airport lots and that the competition has made him take close notice of his customers and ensure that they are give the best possible service.

Well I have to agree that the PDX operation is very cool. I have seen and written articles about it. He processes 6000 exits a day with virtually no back up at exit.  You gotta respect that. His security is high tech and customer service is right there, ready to help. He’s adding more POF’s to make it even easier and if you want, you can wait until you get to the exit and pay there by credit card. Neat.

I don’t mean to single Don out — Many airports are upgrading to POF and increasing  service to their parking customers.

Personally I think there are two reasons — first , parking provides millions to the airport to use for whatever it wants ($40MM at PDX) while many other fees are restricted in use by the FAA.  Revenues have flattened a bit due to competition (and 911) but are back to pre 911 levels now.  Airports put garage construction on hold but are building again.  However, they should be careful — huge garages mean long walks.  If I have to walk 10 minutes to get to my car, perhaps I would rather wait five minutes  for a shuttle and be taken directly to my warm (or cool) car with the engine running, fee paid, and gate open.  I would also like having someone help me with my bag.

Second technology has meant that POF is now the way to go.  I don’t think anyone has installed a NON POF system in an airport in the past six or seven years.  S and B, Federal, Amano, Skidata, Trindel, Zeag, WPS and others are flooding the market with easy to use, reliable, equipment and airports are eating it up.

To compete with an off airport that offers valet service and prepay they will have to do more, however. Sure, If I can get a spot near the skybridge maybe its faster and easier, but all the off airports have to do is add a couple of more shuttles and make sure that one drives by every five minutes and lets face it, it will be difficult to compete. Plus off airport is cheaper. At LAX I pay $30 a day to park my own car in the terminal lots, $19 a day to have it valet parked off airport. That’s an $11 a day savings. In four days, I have saved $40, and gotten better service.

Don may be on the right track at PDX but I think a smart off airport guy could eat his lunch if the off airport location was run right and willing to provide the service that it can.


John Van Horn

John Van Horn

3 Responses

  1. In my limited experience, when an airport gets compettion from an off-airport parking site, they simply raise their access fees to those operators so they have to pass it through to the customer, thus raising their costs.
    I have also seen airports use condemnation powers to close competitors.
    Any comments from the airport side about these anti-competition practices?

  2. Yes, I’ve read of these practices but it’s fair to remember the context: government is socialistic by nature and grossly inflationary of their own importance. Consequently, these anti-competitive practices take place, many times with the courts’ blessings, as “for the good of the people.”
    Naturally, it’s all hooey.
    I think that most of us airport parking types recognize the competition and desire to respond to the marketplace. However, anti-competitive measures are implemented from the dreaded senior administrative level (i.e., political) and we have to slum along with them. When the off-airporters “eat our lunch(es)” even the most intrasigent see the need for change and they usually happen.
    We take a cut (10%) of the off-airport parkers’ revenues, hardly uncommon. We finance the large parking structures while most off-airporters work the surface lots. Are they more nimble and better at customer service? Yes. Do we benefit by the location, location, location argument? Yes.
    In a good market, both can exist in a positive fashion. While the anti-competitive types are out there, they do tend to be the exceptions rather than the rule.
    And lastly, name ONE thing government does well?

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