Our View: Fix it or lump it

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Commercial jet pilots routinely make approaches to Yampa Valley Regional Airport relying only on their cockpit instruments, yet collecting parking fees remains an insurmountable challenge at our airport.

Airport officials have made significant strides in customer service during the past two years, and Routt County is steadfastly pursuing its multi-year terminal expansion project. Last week, we heard that the State Aeronautics Division is close to brokering a deal with the Federal Aviation Administration to provide radar coverage to airports in Northwest Colorado, including YVRA. As a result, fewer airplanes will be forced to circle YVRA and be diverted to other airports in bad weather.

All of those accomplishments only serve to make the parking fiasco more difficult to comprehend.

The problem has to do with a new automated parking system that simply refuses to work. Travelers return from their trips only to find that the automated gate won't accept their payment and won't lift to let them pass.

Airport officials asked for patience this week and suggested that drivers who have problems with the gate ought to return to the terminal and speak to an airline representative, who would, in turn, direct them to someone who could deal with the parking issue. We think that's an unfair request to make of airport users.

Human nature being what it is, travelers are taking matters into their own hands. We've received several reports of drivers who simply put their SUVs into four-wheel-drive and climb the curb to avoid the balky control gate. Others take turns manually lifting the gate for one another.

A little history lesson is in order. Routt County Commissioners decided in October 2000 to begin charging for close-in parking. The rate was $3 a day or $15 a week (fees now are $1 for the second hour, then $1 hour for every additional hour, with a maximum daily charge of $6). By March 2001, the county was embroiled in a minor controversy about whether airline crews should get a discount from the public rate for annual parking passes at the airport. In August 2001, commissioners agreed to pay Hayden's code enforcement office $21.60 an hour to monitor payment of parking fees at the airport.

In 2003, the airport relied on the public to deposit parking fees in a metal box at the edge of the parking lot. Many people skipped that requirement, and parking tickets were not issued.

In February 2004, the former airport manager told county commissioners they would have to wait another year for an automated parking fee collection system such as the one that doubled fee collections at Aspen Airport.

We heartily endorse airport management's intent to subsidize operations with parking fees. And we're relieved to note that winter guests aren't forming a negative opinion about Northwest Colorado because of the airport's parking mess -- most guests take a taxi or rent a car. It's primarily residents of the Yampa Valley who are put through the parking-gate pain.

But we think it's time for the airport to suspend parking fees until it can persuade its vendor to fix the problem once and for all. When that's accomplished, county officials can return to their good work making YVRA a state-of-the-art small market airport.

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