Reserved Parking is in the Works at Logan

Sep. 14--In just a few months, travelers may be able to make reservations at Logan International Airport -- for parking, not just airplane flights.

As it wraps up a $250 million central garage overhaul that is adding 2,800 parking spaces at Logan, the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, is readying plans to make some of them available as premium-priced reserved parking. Reservations would probably be available through the Internet and a telephone-based system for people who open a special account linked to their credit card.

How many spaces would go all-reserved, and how much more users would pay beyond the usual $22-a-day rate, "are details we're still working out," Massport executive director Craig P. Coy said. But Coy said he hopes to have the system in place as soon as January. Coy predicted reserved spaces would probably be those offering the shortest walk to airline terminals.

The system could address one of the chronic complaints of business travelers and frequent fliers who like to drive themselves to the airport: the uncertainty of whether they can get a space in the main garage. When Logan's central and Terminal B garages fill up, people coming to Logan by car can face long bus rides from economy lots on the north end of the airport or parking facilities as far away as Chelsea and Revere.

But Massport officials also are conscious that earmarking too many prime spaces for the affluent and for business people could foster resentment and backlash, especially if people who can afford to reserve but not use a space push drive-up parkers out of being able to use the central garage. "We need to manage it for maximum occupancy for as many people as possible," said John Quelch, the chairman of Massport's board and a professor at Harvard Business School.

Several frequent fliers interviewed at Logan last week raved about the idea. "The chance to reserve a spot in a preferred lot would be a big help to me," said Alan Gold, chief marketing officer for Avotus Corp., a Burlington telecommunications consulting firm that also has a Toronto office. "Flying every week is stressful enough, especially when I am running late, and reducing the anxiety of trying to find parking and still make my flight is very attractive."

Gold said it "would definitely be worth paying a premium, but I hope that Massport doesn't get too greedy."

David L. Smith, a retired state Revenue Department official from Waltham who occasionally flies from Logan to visit family members in Florida, said: "It could be a pretty good idea. It depends on the actual price per day, but it's certainly worth a few bucks." Smith said being able to reserve spaces closest to terminal entrances would be especially appealing to him, since he often is carrying a bag of golf clubs when he flies to Florida.

Pam Shepherd, a spokeswoman for Airports Council International North America, a Washington business association, said she had recently surveyed several other US airports. Logan was "the only one we've heard of" where the airport agency was planning to offer its own reserved parking, Shepherd said. Privately owned parking companies serving Orlando, St. Louis, and Tampa airports offer Web reservations.

Travelers who reserve a space will be charged for it, even if they ultimately don't use it.

Quelch said a key reason Massport can even consider the plan is this summer's adoption of a new technology called Parking Passport. People signing up through the website can create an account that lets them wave a special electronic card in front of garage entry and exit pedestals. The parking fee is charged to their credit card and a receipt gets e-mailed to them within a day.

The all-electronic system complements another new parking-fee technology Logan installed this summer called Exit Express. People can pay their parking fee at a blue kiosk before they go to their car, then take a validated ticket and use an express lane to leave the garage, inserting the ticket to open the gate. Logan still has agents staff exit booths to collect parking fees by cash or credit card.

The 2,800 spaces being added on three new levels of the 1970s-vintage central garage will bring the total parking available on Logan property to nearly 15,000 spaces, aviation director Thomas J. Kinton Jr. said. Currently, the garages sell out at peak travel periods such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the public school vacation weeks.

The premium parking plan would help Massport further increase its revenue from parking, which in its most recent fiscal year rose 17 percent to $88.2 million, nearly 21 percent of the agency's total $421.5 million revenue. Massport's other revenue sources include airport and seaport rentals and concessions, airplane landing fees, and Tobin Bridge tolls.

Coy acknowledged Massport stands to make money but said: "It's more of a customer service that we're trying to offer." The system would not guarantee people a specific parking space on a specific level, but would let some number of spaces in a special zone be reserved by the equivalent number of drivers.

Even after the next 2,800 spaces are built out, however, Coy said he remains concerned that they will quickly fill up, saying, "We candidly think we're going to be maxed out on parking."