Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport Free Lot to Ease Arrival Pickups

Mar. 1--Drivers picking up passengers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport soon will be able to idle in a free parking lot while they monitor an electronic flight arrival board and await that "I'm here!" phone call.

Broward County commissioners on Tuesday agreed to build a 50-space, short-term parking lot next to the terminal, mostly to keep drivers from parking illegally along roadways or from endlessly circling the airport while they wait for arriving passengers.

Thousands of $38.50 citations are issued each year to people who pull over on the side of the road leading to the airport -- a no-no in the age of heightened post-9/11 security. In 2005, Broward deputies wrote an average of 45 parking tickets a day, mostly for people who had pulled over because they were tired of driving in circles and dodging pedestrians, cabs and other traffic.

"I ask you to approve this in the name of the 16,542 Broward County residents who got citations this year while waiting on the access ramps to pick up their loved ones," Commissioner Ilene Lieberman urged her colleagues Tuesday.

The airport's short-term garage allows 15 minutes of free parking, which airport officials acknowledged is not long enough. After 15 minutes, the tab goes up $1 every half-hour.

But will a cellphone lot change the behavior of antsy friends and relatives waiting for a delayed plane to show up?

People want to pick up arriving passengers without getting out of their cars, said Commissioner John Rodstrom, and they will do whatever it takes to avoid parking.

"I'm just skeptical because people want the ultimate convenience here," Rodstrom said. "That's what this is all about. I think you can have all the cellphone lots in the world and I'm not sure you're still not going to be giving out a ton of tickets."

Despite some skepticism, commissioners approved the lot in hopes it would cut down the number of citations.

"I'm not saying don't enforce that, but the problem is you don't give them an option," Lieberman said. "They didn't have an option. Now they have an option."

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood will join Miami and Palm Beach international Airports, which have similar lots; Palm Beach opened one in 2003, and MIA's opened last year in time for the holiday season. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood lot will take several months to construct.

The airport had considered a short-term cellphone lot before, but as many as eight sites were rejected because they were too far from the airport and would be unlikely to get much use. Some also had lousy cellphone reception, making them unsuitable.

But a good alternative emerged late last year when the builders who worked on the new parking garage vacated an open space immediately adjacent to the terminals. Airport workers even tested the signal from four cellular service providers at the proposed lot, which is underneath the airport entrance ramps.

Airport officials also considered extending the free time in the parking garage. The 15-minute limit was designed mostly to afford a free exit to people who took a wrong turn and ended up in a garage by accident.

But commissioners abandoned that idea because the airport would lose about $410,000 a year from drivers who spend more than 15 minutes but less than 30 minutes in the short-term garage.

At $283,020, the cost of a new cellphone parking lot seemed like a bargain. Said Mayor Ben Graber: "It won't solve the problem, but it's going to help."