Saturday, February 11, 2006
After reading the recent editorial in the Steamboat Today, I thought I would add my observations. Although the editorial correctly identified the current parking problem at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, and its proposed solution does have some historical basis, I think the overall airport management has a more systemic problem that goes beyond the "Parking Gate" scandal.
First, it seems that there was no attempt to look at other airports to see what does and what does not work. And there are two very good examples close by: Denver International Airport and the Eagle Valley Regional Airport. For starters, at the Eagle Valley airport, the passenger drop-off for everyone -- including shuttles and private vehicles -- is curbside. At DIA, the passenger drop-off for private vehicles is curbside, as well. There are no overengineered lanes that give priority to commercial vehicles and push private cars farther and farther away.
Next, at the Eagle Valley airport, the parking is free and close to the terminal. The rental car lots are farther away. At DIA, the customer parking is close in, and the rental car lots aren't even within eyeshot. At YVRA, it's just the opposite. The closest parking is allocated to rental car companies, and customer parking feels as if it's halfway to Hayden when you're dragging luggage through shin-deep snow.
When DIA opened, everyone who came to the airport had to stop and get a ticket. Everyone had to stop again on the way out. If you were there for 30 minutes or less, there was no charge. Any longer periods spent at the airport incurred accumulating charges, much like the current arrangement at YVRA. This concept quickly was abandoned (which required a multi-million dollar retrofit) because it placed an unreasonable inconvenience on the people who were there for short periods. And someone finally realized it made no sense.
So the larger question is: Why would YVRA management choose to install systems that historically have not worked even when the equipment does? Why would they offer priority to rental car companies and shuttle services over the everyday users of the airport? Sure, there is a large influx of tourists during the ski months, but the airport is used and supported 12 months a year by the people who live here. These are the folks who are dropping off and picking up passengers, parking long- and short-term and flying in and out of the area many times a year.
So how is it that other airports can manage to thrive with free parking while Yampa Valley Regional Airport commissioners would cry poverty if these fees were not in place? The reason is a lack of vision with a solid plan for commercial development.
All the other airports have managed to design a comprehensive and rational business plan that has grown the commercial business in and around their airports. In doing so, they are able to keep their parking free while making capital improvements that improve convenience for their local users.
The Yampa Valley Airport Commission is a group of people handpicked by the Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners (even though some members are "nominated" by other agencies, the final selection is made by the council and commissioners). Although the City Council and county commissioners say this group has a breadth of knowledge and experience, in the short life of the airport commission, it already has a history of questionable decision-making. One of its first blunders was the flawed 2004 study that the Steamboat Pilot & Today correctly identified as improperly conducted and self-serving. Now, it is engaging in a multi-million dollar expansion project that, though badly needed, has shown to be poorly planned and misguided.
Yampa Valley Regional Airport commissioners have a mandate by the City Council and county commissioners to keep watch over the two airports and manage the ongoing operations. They also have great province to guide the evolution of these airports, make and implement plans and offer some vision as to what the future may hold for Steamboat Springs Airport and Yampa Valley Regional Airport. And much of it really is not that difficult to figure out as evidenced by airports around us. But this commission, and the people who put it there, need to keep a perspective on who really uses these airports day in and day out. And should they begin to lose the support of the local community, then problems such as "Parking Gate" will be the least of their worries.