Airport upgrades parking, service

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— The airline traveler emerged from the passenger terminal, spied the official emblem on the door of David Ruppel's car and waved to get his attention.

"OK, I've dropped my luggage inside, now there's supposed to be a (parking) lot with an arm that goes up and down. Where do I find that?" she asked.

Ruppel is the manager of Yampa Valley Regional Airport. Wednesday's encounter with the traveler addressed customer service issues he intends to fix. The airport is going through a multi-year expansion project, and many travelers' frustrations can be attributed to the ongoing construction.

The traveler parked in the passenger drop-off loop and took her luggage inside. She then wanted to know how to navigate her way to long-term airport parking.

Ruppel climbed out of the driver's seat and directed her to the lot.

Ruppel has a short-term plan to clear up frustration among travelers the automated arm that guards long-term parking spaces. He also has a mid-range plan to make it more convenient for departing passengers who arrive in private vehicles to get their luggage to the check-in line.

The new automated parking system frustrated some travelers who found that the arm refused to budge after they inserted their credit cards to pay their fees.

Ruppel said a factory technician fine-tuned the system this week, and that it was working without incident Wednesday. Ruppel intends to take further measures to ensure the gate's operation.

"We've had senior staff trying to cycle through the parking lots" to deal with any problems, Ruppel said. "But I've been authorized to hire two more people. Their primary job would be to station themselves next to the gate at the busiest times."

The parking lot attendants would work with lot users and provide alternate payment methods when practical.

In the most trying situations, they would be authorized to open the parking gate and allow travelers to exit without charge, Ruppel said.

Ruppel gets a detailed printout of every transaction handled by the automated parking fee system. They system allows him to see when customers had to make several attempts to get the system to accept their credit cards.

In January, the system handled 2,023 transactions with 124 problem cases. That amounts to about 6 percent, but it's still too many, Ruppel said.

"For the people who make up that 5 or 6 percent, at the end of a very long day of travel, it's 100 percent," Ruppel said. "There are enough frustrations at the airport with the ongoing construction. Our intent is to minimize the frustrations as people come through the airport."

The next modification at the airport will allow private vehicles to drop off departing passengers in front of the terminal -- something they are unable to do now, even with a redesigned traffic flow. Ruppel is optimistic that he can create an additional lane for private vehicles while keeping public transportation loading areas separate and staying within budget, though the improvement will have to wait for summer. Construction on the second half of Phase 2 of the terminal expansion project at YVRA is scheduled to resume in April.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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