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    Airport to review parking prices

    Drivers have been flocking to the long-term lot, leaving other lots unfilled. "Our mix isn't right,'' one official says.

    By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 4, 2002

    TAMPA -- Just in time for the holidays, officials at Tampa International Airport are considering a reduction in parking fees. But it's not a gift; it's a necessity.

    A review of parking fees, announced Thursday at a meeting of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, was prompted by a marked change in the way drivers have been using airport parking since last year's terrorist attacks. They're overloading the long-term garage while spaces in short-term parking and the remote economy lot go begging.

    "We're not even in a peak travel time, and last week we filled up the long-term garage twice," said Louis Miller, executive director of the Aviation Authority. "Yet we had capacity all over the place in short-term parking and in the remote economy lot. Our mix isn't right, and we have to find out why and fix it."

    Airport officials are looking at several possible reasons for the situation:

    Public concerns for safety might prompt some to avoid short-term parking, which sits on top of the Landside terminal building, in favor of the long-term garage, which is a separate building.

    Concerns about the time it takes for cars entering short-term parking to undergo security searches might divert some drivers to the long-term garage.

    In the weeks immediately following the terrorist attacks, when the Federal Aviation Administration closed short-term parking, passengers might have discovered the convenience of the pedestrian walkways connecting long-term parking with the main terminal.

    The twin walkways begin on level two of the garage and end on level three of the terminal, and allow passengers to avoid the circuitous routing of the parking shuttle. From anywhere in the long-term garage, they can take stairs or an elevator to level two and walk to the north side where the walkways are located.

    The poor economy might have made the price of parking more important. A day's parking in long-term costs $10. A day's parking in short-term is $14. Airport officials question whether the difference is too great.

    Fewer people are using short-term parking because of new federal security rules limiting access to the airsides to ticketed passengers. Many who might have used short-term parking to pick up or see off friends and relatives are now simply leaving them at the curb.

    Road signs directing people to the remote-economy lot, where fees are $7 a day to a maximum of $42 a week, might be too little, too late. The lot sits on the southern edge of airport property, and there is very little room inside the property line for signs telling motorists to stay to the right for access to the lot.

    "If people get caught in the left lane, it's true, there isn't enough warning to get over to the right," Miller said. "We're going to work with (the Florida Department of Transportation) on getting some signage farther back down the parkway."

    A decision to reduce parking fees would be difficult. Parking is one of TIA's largest revenue generators, yet despite recent fee increases, parking revenues have remained static. Airport officials say that without the latest increases, revenue would have declined by 19 percent last year because of falling passenger counts.

    A decision on changes in parking fees will come later this year, Miller said.

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