Tickets Put Brakes on Drivers Illegally Awaiting Passengers At Fort Lauderdale Airport

They used to line the side of interstate ramps and U.S. 1 leading into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport -- rows of cars waiting for a cellphone call to pick up passengers.

Most of the lines of cars are gone now. Broward Sheriff's Office deputies began cracking down last month on drivers illegally parking along ramps and in front of the terminal.

Groups of three or four sporadically try the maneuver, but deputies break them up with a round of parking tickets costing up to $71.

Post-Sept. 11 regulations stopped drivers from parking in front of the terminals. So motorists looking to save a few minutes or a few bucks began to park on the shoulder of nearby expressways, waiting for word from their passengers via cellphone.

The vehicles are a hazard because when it comes time to move again, they have to merge into traffic at upward of 45 mph, a scenario that can lead to accidents, officials say. DIFFERENT APPROACHES

In response to requests from the Broward County Aviation Department, BSO is targeting these vehicles.

Most nights, 22 deputies, 12 to 15 airport security officers and two or three parking officers are trying to keep the cars moving, BSO Sgt. Ray Morell said.

Palm Beach International Airport tried a different solution: a 24-space, free, cellphone-callers' parking lot.

So far, the lot has cut down on roadside parking and gotten great reviews, Palm Beach airport spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda said.

Cars began using the lot from the day it opened, De La Rionda said. ''We feel as though it has been extremely useful,'' she said.

But don't expect the same in Broward.

Fort Lauderdale doesn't have the room to create a similar lot, spokesman Steve Belleme said. What space the airport has is either too far from the highways for convenience or too close to the runways for safety, Belleme said.

So Fort Lauderdale is sticking to the strict enforcement.

In about 2 ½ hours, Morell wrote about six tickets Thursday night, five for illegal parking and one for speeding.

Lots of Excuses

Overall, his shift wrote 63 tickets between 2:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

The drivers dish up excuses ranging from running out of motor oil to just not seeing the ''no parking'' signs. A few drivers yell and curse, but most accept the ticket and move on.

''Most people understand,'' Morell said.