Businesses offering parking and shuttle services to Spokane International Airport say they have struggled following the airport’s decision this summer to increase its trip fees.
One such business, the Park ‘N Jet lot, located at 5602 W Sunset Highway, announced last month that it would be closing its parking operation and converting its 1,000 parking slots into additional storage units. By Oct. 1, the business also had laid off 24 employees, leaving four to manage the facility’s storage units.
Andrea Pierce, regional vice president of operations for Diamond Parking Service in Spokane, which owns the Park ‘N Jet, says changes in parking and trip fees at the airport played a big part in those decisions.
“The airport decreased their parking fees, and then recently doubled the trip fee for us to drive into their facility,” she says.
Pierce says the Park ‘N Jet lot facility previously was charging $5.99 a day for self-parking, and $10.99 a day for valet parking, compared to the airport’s charge of $4.00 per day, with free shuttle service from its economy lot.
She adds that following recent changes, the company also was paying upwards of $200 per month in trip fees to be able to access the airport.
“It came to a point where we just couldn’t operate profitably anymore,” she says.
Pierce says during its operation, the Park ‘N Jet’s customers included both airline and airport workers, as well as a loyal base of frequent travelers.
“This past month as we were closing, we started directing customers to begin using Spotted Road Parking Express,” she says. “Hopefully some of them will do that.”
Spotted Road Parking Express is another local parking and shuttle service, located at 1610 S Spotted Road. Pierce says she is acquainted with the business’s owner, Juan Contreras, having attended recent Airport Board meetings alongside him.
“We presented our case hoping they wouldn’t raise the fee, but it didn’t work out,” she says.
Todd Woodard, spokesman for Spokane Airports, says neither its reduced parking fee nor its increased trip fee is new, but rather came about through separate decisions made by the airport over the past two years.
Starting in 2014, he says, as part of an effort to increase usage of its economy lot, the airport offered a summer promotion, decreasing its parking fee from $6 per day to $4. He says the response to the promotion was so positive, that the price reduction was extended through that year.
“Our takeaway was that pricing and product were mismatched and there was not much general awareness of the airport’s parking products,” he says.
Therefore, he says, in its 2015 operating budget, the airport set its economy lot fee at $4 per day, tax included.
Separately, he says, in July, the airport’s trip fee, which it charges to outside shuttle services, was increased for the first time in 20 years, bumping up from 50 cents per trip to $1.
Woodard says the reason for the change was “to more closely capture the operating, maintenance, and capital expenses incurred by the airport related to the ground transportation network.”
The trip fee is applied to defray the cost of curbside staffing, maintenance of the roadway, and the appearance and upkeep of the terminal building’s curbside area.
Woodard says the process of increasing the fee took about a year and included a six-month data collection period measuring the number of trips by each provider.
“Effectively, a one-year notice was given to the users in an effort to assist them in budgeting for the anticipated $0.50 increase,” he says.
Spokane International Airport, the adjacent Airport Business Park, and the Felts Field general reliever airport in East Spokane are owned jointly by Spokane County and the city of Spokane, and are administered by the Spokane Airport Board, consisting of seven appointees from the two governmental jurisdictions.
The board annually invests about $30 million in capital improvements at the facilities, which are operated and maintained using revenues derived from rents and fees they generate. None of them receive appropriated tax dollars.
Woodard says it’s important to note that all revenue generated by parking is used to fund the airport’s operations, maintenance, and improvements.
“Parking revenue is critical to maintaining financial self-sufficiency as we rely on no taxpayer money to operate or improve the airport,” he says. “Revenue generated from our parking facilities is reinvested in improving the operation, maintenance and expansion of airport facilities that directly benefit passengers.”
For his part, Juan Contreras says the airport’s increased parking and trip fees have impacted Spotted Road Parking Express both positively and negatively.
“Yes, we’ve seen an increase in business with the loss of a major competitor, but now we’re passing along that extra fee to our customers making us less competitive with the airport,” he says. “And there’s still the fear the airport will continue to put pressure on our business.”
Contreras says Spotted Road Parking Express has been in business for a little over five years now, and has been doing well despite having limited capacity.
“We’re a small facility, compared to the airport,” he says. “But we’ve grown slowly over the past five years, as more people have come to know we’re here.”
Including both Contreras and his wife, the business employs a total of eight people now, having just hired on three former Park ‘N Jet workers.
“We saw a significant increase in business after the Park ‘N Jet closed, and that was likely due to them being gracious enough to refer customers,” he says. “But overall, losing them as a competitor doesn’t alleviate our struggles with the airport and their policies.”
The business currently charges $4.60 per day, plus tax, for parking, with an additional $2.00 to make up for the airport’s trip fee.
“This year, because of the increase in airport access fees, we were forced to pass that charge along to the customer,” says Contreras. “Essentially, the customer pays a bit more for parking.”
Contreras says his company’s lot has a current capacity of about 250 cars, but it does have room to expand, bringing that up to a 350-car capacity, possibly by next fall.
“We have some extra space at the back of the lot, mostly gravel that will need to be readied for expansion,” he says. “Up until recently we didn’t need it, but with the Park ‘N Jet’s closure, we’re getting more business and could use the extra room.”
While he says he understands the airport’s need to increase their fees and stay competitive, Contreras says he doesn’t think it’s being done fairly.
“We would like to see an increase that’s fair to everyone,” he says. “It’s difficult to compete when you’re being both undercut, with the airport offering cheaper parking in their economy lot, and priced out by increasing access fees.”
Changes implemented at the airport last year along with the increased trip fee included the addition of driver background checks, insurance requirements, vehicle inspections, and designated curbside areas. Woodard says the changes were made to address safety concerns and customer service objectives, as well as to establish a level playing field for all ground transportation services.
“It is in the best interest of all airport users, including businesses who offer similar paid parking products, for-hire services, and courtesy shuttles, to have a safe, efficient, and well-maintained ground transportation system at the airport,” he says.
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