Magazine

Denver International Airport

We Do It All Right!

John Van Horn

Dorothy L. M. Harris had the enviable position of starting her parking operation with a clean slate -- well, almost. The Assistant Deputy Manager of Aviation-Parking for Denver International Airport moved into that position just a few months before the Mile High City's new aviation complex was to open in February 1995.
The parking facilities were built. The surface lots paved. But there was one minor problem: There was not enough parking.
Harris took action and, before the airport opened, moved the rental cars out of the 13,000-space parking structure and increased the net public usage. Hundreds of additional spaces were gained by paving airspace areas between the structure sections. Plus, a program was begun to increase the size of shuttle lots. Rental cars were conveniently located in an area near the entry to the airport.
Harris' operation now controls 34,000 public spaces and 6,700 employee spaces to handle the more than 15,000 workers at the 53-square-mile airport.
"We fill twice a year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas," Harris said. "At those times, we open our 8,700-space 'prepay' lot."
To ease traffic-flow issues during the peak parking seasons, the airport institutes a prepay system in this lot. On entry, parkers tell the attendant how long they are staying. The attendant then collects the parking fee and gives them a receipt that they leave on their dash. Vehicles overstaying their "welcome" are given a promissory note. "We receive virtually all of these requests for additional fees back. We don't lose any money in this program," Harris said.
The airport also provides a rebate for those that return early. There is a bit more administrative work, but enabling customers to leave quickly without queuing in long lines makes the process well worth it, she added.
In 2003, the parking operation at Denver International generated $75 million in revenue, with a budget of $13 million. The profit was returned to the airport's general operating fund. This income came from charges of $15 a day in the parking structure, $7 a day in the close-in economy lot, and $5 a day in the shuttle locations.
The 13,000 spaces in the shuttle lots and the 6,700 spaces in the staff lot keep Harris' 47 shuttle buses moving. The all-natural-gas vehicles are constantly busy.
Harris pointed out that all the bus shelters in the outlying lots have phones and signal lighting that allow parkers to alert the bus drivers that they are there and ready for pick up. There are signs on entry that notify parkers as to the location of the rows that have available parking spaces.
This manual system enables parkers to go directly to rows where they can park, rather than "hunting" for space in rows that are full. "It really makes little difference where they park, as the shuttles travel the entire lot and pick them up near their car. If they drive directly to an area where spaces are available, it saves a lot of time."
The airside employee lots reflect the airport's concern with security. After staff members park, they walk to a building where they must present their airport credential and have their thumb scanned before passing through a turnstile and then boarding a bus. On the other side of the turnstile, they are for all intents and purposes on the secure "airside" of the airport. They board the shuttle, which drives them to locations within the secure area of the airport. There they disembark and proceed to their work areas.
The shuttle drivers are instructed that when they leave the secure compound at the parking area and pass through the unsecured "landside" area before entering the "airside" locations, they must open the doors to the shuttles only after they have arrived "airside."
Denver International uses a pay-on-exit system. Its recently upgraded Ascom system is networked to two exit plazas with a total of 28 lanes, plus the shuttle and economy lots with an additional dozen exits. A license plate inventory system protects against lost and swapped ticket issues. The system is not automated.
In the early morning hours, parking staff drive the lots and enter space and license numbers. That information is then uploaded to the central system. On exit, the cashier keys in the license number and the entry time is compared with that on the ticket to ensure that all is as it should be.
"We also use the system to help people locate their cars," Harris said. "Plus, we interface with law enforcement and the rental car companies to assist them in locating lost, abandoned or stolen vehicles. Speaking of abandoned vehicles, we have over 100 in an impound area," she said. "We will sell them at an auction we hold annually."
The airport's parking operator, Ampco System Parking, is always under the watchful eye of Harris' audit and customer service staff. The audit department checks all deposits and daily reports against raw data from the revenue control system.
"We found a lot of problems in the early days," Harris said. "However, once the audit procedures were fully in place and done on a regular basis, the major issues have been resolved. We still find a few problems, but they can be rectified quickly."
Harris has a full-time staff member who monitors the cashiers through CCTV. Individual transactions can be reviewed so the auditors are certain that license numbers are input correctly and that transactions are properly concluded.
One staff member is a "shopper." She calls the operator periodically and asks questions about parking at the airport. The goal is to ensure that customer service is kept at a high level.
Self-park isn't the only parking operation under the control of the airport. Harris parks 80,000 cars a year through her valet operation.
"After 9/11, many valet operations were curtailed due to regulations that require vehicles not to park within 75 feet of the terminal," Harris said. "We were able to circumvent this requirement by having the Transportation Safety Administration train our valets in the methods of searching vehicles for explosives.
"All valet vehicles are carefully searched by the valets and then accepted for parking," she said. "The valets are so good at it that during times when we go on a high security alert, we loan them to the police to be used at checkpoints at the airport entries.
"9/11 put a halt to a number of airport projects. Our traffic dropped off tremendously after the attacks," Harris said. "However, we are on the comeback trail, and 2003 was the third best ever: up 5 percent over 2002, with 37.5 million passengers handled by the airport.
"A new garage, a hotel and a number of other projects were put on hold or scrapped. However, the increase in traffic has allowed us to look again at a number of projects. We will review a new garage project in 2005; plus, we have expanded our valet operation, are replacing our AVI system used for staff and commercial vehicles, and will be installing a credit card in/out system shortly."
Harris is excited about the CCIO system. Over 65 percent of the airport's parking receipts are from credit cards. Automating those transactions will greatly increase throughput in the parking lanes, add to customer satisfaction and reduce costs.
Other projects on the drawing board include a VIP lot where parkers can have their vehicles serviced, washed and even repaired. There is an abandoned car rental lot on the airport property that would be perfect for that type of operation.
"We begin our marketing program in March. There's no need to advertise during the low traffic times of January and February," Harris said. "My goal is to keep those shuttle lots full."
When PT asked her to describe what she felt was the best part of her operation, she paused, then said: "We do it all right!"

John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at editor@parkingtoday.com

Article Abstract from March, 2004




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