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Three Questions: Casey Wagner, COO of Walker Consultants

Casey Wagner is the chief operating officer for Walker Consultants. At Walker, Wagner is responsible for guiding every aspect of parking consulting and design. His project expertise includes numerous airport projects, where he and his team provide full design and parking consulting services.

Many North American airports are struggling to right-size their parking offerings and effectively plan for the future, a daunting task for many in light of the emergence of the shared economy and the prevalence of Transportation Network Companies now operating – and gaining market share – at many airports. ARN’s Rebecca Renner spoke with Wagner about the key challenges airports face in managing and planning parking in the current environment.

Renner: In general, how big of an impact have TNCs like Uber and Lyft  had on airport parking?

Wagner: So far, the impact has been really substantial. We studied a Midwest airport and found it wasn’t as completely impacted by the TNC revolution as we’re seeing in their five major markets: New York, L.A., Washington, D.C., Boston and Chicago. What we found was that parking has declined more than 10 percent, and TNC use has increased by over 600 percent. Where we’re seeing the biggest impact is in short-term parking.

Airports are starting to realize that they’re losing revenue, not just from parking, but also their concessions to the taxis, limos, shuttles, and car rental [firms]. Airports have started to put staging areas in inside their facilities. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is a really good example. They blocked off part of their parking. Now there’s an access fee that the TNCs have to pay in order to come on to the airport proper. That’s where all their customers are now gathering. They’re away from the pick-up and drop-off zone and they’re inside a parking garage. So Seattle-Tacoma is combating both the drive through and the lingering and loitering of the TNCs to get that next customer, but they’re also picking up some revenue that way, too.

Renner: What should airports be doing with their existing parking pricing, marketing or other strategies to effectively compete with TNCs and other transportation options?

Wagner: I think it’s the convenience factor. Airports have to provide that high level of service to compete, whether it’s through pricing or advance reserve space or parking guidance. If I could know I could get a spot and not have to search through the lots, and know when I come on the airport proper that I could park in three minutes and be on my way – for the right fee – that’s when you start getting competitive. I know a ride for me to the airport is $24. If I can park for less than that then I’m going to obviously be saving money. I already have my vehicle. I’m not really taking into account the price of gas at that point. But the convenience for me it would be better.

Renner: A big issue now among airport directors is whether to invest in parking infrastructure. Passenger growth projections would indicate need. In your opinion, how should airport directors proceed? Should they invest? Should they scale back their projects?

Wagner: Airport directors need to be conscious of the impact of adding parking to the market. They also need to reconsider their plans. What they were doing 15 years, ago 10 years ago, doesn’t apply in terms of a management strategy. So they really need to focus on what they’re going to change to be competitive. We know enplanements are going up. Population is going up. The economy is still thriving. And so you need to accommodate those people that want to drive and want to park. We’re doing some big projects right now in Atlanta airport, and they are overhauling their whole parking system. We’ve helped coach them through questions like “What is the right size of the garage?” We need to work through the next step, which is the management strategy, how they’re going to operate the garage and what kind of services they can offer to be competitive. It’s not going to be a one size fits all approach.