BART's airport parking popular

A new, cheap form of airport parking is proving quite popular with Peninsula travelers, but less so with competitors and some local officials.

Earlier this month, BART began offering long-term parking at four San Mateo County stations for $6 per day, undercutting off-site airport parking lots in San Bruno and San Francisco. Customers reserve the spots through a link on BART's Web site.

The transit agency's program is off to a fast start. In its first week, customers reserved nearly 2,000 days of long-term parking, BART spokesman Linton Johnson said. That puts the program on pace to surpass its annual revenue goal of $368,000.

The Millbrae station, from which a round-trip BART ticket to SFO costs just $3, has been especially popular, garnering more than 75 percent of the reservations. That's a big change for a station where the lots usually sit mostly empty.

But not everyone sees the program as an unmixed blessing.

"On the face of it, it could provide better service for commuters and airport users," San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill said. "But we have to look at the fact that it's now competing against some of the local businesses that provide those same services."

Competition, of course, is the American way. But Hill and others point out that BART is a public agency that is now competing with private businesses.

"It's not an even playing field," said Marty Van Duyn, assistant city manager for South San Francisco. "This is a public facility paid for with the public's tax money, and they pay no property taxes, no sales taxes, no use taxes."

That allows BART to charge much lower rates than its private competitors, Van Duyn said. For the off-site parking businesses located in South San Francisco, that could mean revenue and job losses, which could translate into less revenue for the city.

The city lodged similar complaints against an on-site parking upgrade by San Francisco International Airport and recently reached an agreement to share in the revenues. Van Duyn said BART so far has declined to negotiate, so the city, for now, is waiting to gauge the extent of the problem.

It probably won't even be noticeable, BART spokesman Johnson said. He pointed out that the transit agency is making a maximum of 500 spots available at the four stations.

By contrast, the airport has about 3,500 long-term spots on-site, and about 85,000 travelers take off from SFO each day, spokesman Mike McCarron said.

SkyPark, a privately run lot based in San Bruno, has about 1,700 spots that rent for $13 to $19 per day, company president Kim Kassner said.

"It's too early to tell, but I assume we will lose some business" to BART, Kassner said. "Certainly we took a hell of a drop when the airport (parking facility) opened up, but BART is an unknown quantity. Will they attract enough people who are willing to lug their bags around?"

Yasir Hussein, operations manager for the nearby San Francisco Clarion Airport Parking, said he got a call from his supervisor when word broke aboutBART's parking plan. "He said, in a joking way, "Can you do better than $6 a day?'"

Hussein said he certainly can't, but, nonetheless, he doesn't see the BART lots as a big threat.

"We've built a clientele based here and usually customers do what's convenient for them. So far, it hasn't dragged any of our customers away."

Despite the program's early popularity, Johnson said, the lots are far from sold out at this point. But he advised airport travelers hoping to park at BART lots during the holiday season to make their reservations far in advance, just in case.

More information about BART's long-term parking program is available online at .

Reach Will Oremus at .