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Pickup plan has smooth takeoff

A cell phone lot and new rules for cars ease the curbside congestion at Tampa International's baggage claim area.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS
Published November 16, 2005

TAMPA - The "loading only" zone outside baggage claim at Tampa International Airport looked much like one of its runways early Tuesday afternoon: a clear stretch of road closely monitored by airport personnel in neon vests.

In an effort to curb the curbside crunch at peak hours, airport officials weren't letting cars wait for passengers in the loading zones between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight. Unless the passenger was at the curb with bags in hand, the cars had to keep moving.

It is one of a series of changes designed to reduce frustration and confusion at the pickup point. The airport has established a "cell phone lot" where drivers can wait for passengers to call them when they have their bags and are ready to go. And the airport is now offering drivers who want to meet passengers at baggage claim or drop someone off a free first hour in short-term and long-term parking lots.

With the help of flashing displays on I-275 and arrows throughout the airport, the airport traffic specialists began directing drivers to the free cell phone lot that opened Tuesday, where they could await calls from passengers before driving to baggage claim.

A sign at the lot directs drivers to wait 20 minutes after the plane is scheduled to land before heading to baggage claim.

For Ron Field of Apollo Beach, his 20 minute downtime meant a cigarette break outside his Lexus SUV. For Sylvia Woodard of Riverview, it meant organizing her pocketbook inside her minivan.

"We usually get stuck at the arrival gate. We have to wait to get out," Woodard said. She likes the cell phone lot better. "I think it's more convenient. You don't have to drive around and wait for the plane."

For limo driver Hakeem Tahir, it was a chance to polish his Lincoln Town Car between the average 15 to 20 pickups he makes per day. He welcomed the change, and said the new lot would make his job easier as soon as more people started using it.

"The transition is going to be the biggest thing now, making sure everybody knows it's available, that it's close," Tahir said.

The new system doesn't just apply during designated peak periods, TIA spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said Tuesday. Any time the loading drive gets too crowded, airport personnel have the latitude to insist drivers move along unless they have a passenger there, ready to go, she said.

Likewise, if the arrival curb is not crowded, drivers will be permitted to linger, time and conditions permitting, she said.

"We have to use common sense," she said. If there is no gridlock and it isn't a peak time, "there's no need to rush them off the curb."

Armed with a whistle, a radio and a neon yellow vest, traffic specialist Frank Correa noticed a drastic decrease in congestion at the arrival curb. There had been plenty of media coverage of the new measures, and airport police presence to make sure things ran smoothly.

"I think (drivers) are a little leery of what's going on, but it'll take a few days," Correa said.

Correa said airport officials would have to wait to see how the new rules work out over time, when enforcement lightens and drivers get accustomed to the rules. Still, things are looking up for the airport's new rules.

"People have been very cooperative so far," he said.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or at azayas@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 16, 2005, 01:08:07]


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