Oakland Airport Looking at Lowering Parking Rates

Officials at Oakland International Airport have tried numerous ways to persuade air travelers to use airport parking lots.

They've erected new signs, placed ads on the radio and even considered a partnership with the private sector in hopes of winning back the lucrative parking business lost to a cadre of off-airport parking complexes.

But after four years of failed campaigns, the airport has finally figured out what has made their lots less attractive.

Next week, Port Commissioners will vote on a proposal to lower the rates at the airport's long-term and economy lots.

"We have to get competitive," said Aviation Director Steve Grossman. "We had to do something, so this is what you do."

If approved, the airport will reduce rates at the economy lot to $15 a day from $19. It will also cut rates at its long-term parking lot to $19 a day from $22. However, by comparison, some off-airport lots charge less than $10 a day and provide free shuttle rides.

Along with the lower rates, the airport will increase the frequency of parking lot shuttles and spend about $115,000 on advertising the parking lots.

While the new rates do not drop to the lows offered by off-airport parking lots, port officials hope the new fees combined with an advertising blitz will persuade travelers that parking at the airport is more convenient than parking off it.

The ongoing battle to lure travelers to on-airport parking began several years ago when off-airport parking lots began to sprout up.

With their low rates and various amenities, the off-airport business slowly eroded the airport's market share of travelers who drive to the airport.

In 1996, more than 40 percent of the people using the airport parked in airport lots, only 23 percent did last year.

The importance of having passengers use airport parking lots can be seen in the port's annual budget.

In 2004-05, the airport generated $42.4 million from parking fees and charges it places on ground transportation companies -- taxis and shuttles, among others -- for access to the airport.

Port officials have been reluctant to lower parking rates for fear of losing revenue. But the time has come, Grossman said. The agency must lower the rates or lose more business.

Grossman predicted the airport would break even with the lower rates by attracting more customers. Though, he said, the airport will never be able to match the $8.95 to $12 a day charges offered by other lots.

At least two port commissioners agreed with the plan to lower rates and said the issue is no longer one of revenue.

Its more about customer service, they said.

"It is not just to try to generate more revenue, it also is to serve the public," said Commissioner Frank Kiang. "Right now, we have too many vacant spots every day at the airport and that just doesn't make sense. Parking on-airport is more convenient, it's closer."

Commissioner Darlene Ayers-Johnson said the airport's parking lots should be viewed as a service provided to customers rather than a profit center.

"It is part of a whole, which is service," she said. "We have to be competitive and we have to be service orientated."

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