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    A Times Editorial

    Meeting TIA's parking challenge

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 9, 2001

    Tampa International Airport has increased its parking capacity by 70 percent in the last five years, but spaces are expensive and finding one is still a struggle. The lots are crammed, shuttle service is poor, cabs are expensive and valet parking, which is attractive to many business fliers, is not practical for the majority of travelers who pay their own way.

    Local government and the private sector need to respond to the needs of a growing, world-class airport. Officials plan to build new multilevel decks over existing lots, but relief is more than a year away. For the interim, at least, Hillsborough County and private shuttle companies need to expand service.

    Three years of solid, unexpected growth at the airport justifies the need for a new public-private venture that could provide travelers with affordable ground transportation. The county regulates the cab industry; it should encourage better service to the airport as a condition for a license. The county and the airport should also consider operating shuttle service between the airport and existing public parking lots in the downtown, Channelside and Ybor City areas. Underutilized public lots could raise revenue for local government and lessen the demand for new construction.

    Long-range solutions include providing light-rail service to the airport in addition to expanding existing bus transit. The airport has set aside a rail corridor to provide service to the terminal, and the 2020 master plan sets aside $36-million to build a passenger station at TIA.

    For now, airport officials are doing what they can to promote drop-offs, carpools and other alternatives to parking in the garage. But it's a good bet the airport won't be able to build its way out of the problem.

    The crunch reflects the region's explosive growth and the importance of the bay area's ties to outside destinations. Assuming that balloon doesn't burst, the problem of parking cars is a microcosm of the larger challenge -- managing a region more interdependent and on the move.

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