Holiday travelers hoping to park at the San Antonio International Airport this year won’t be turned away, airport officials say.
With the new short-term parking garage added a year ago and the recent expansion of the economy “green” surface lot, Aviation Director Russ Handy said the airport will be able to accommodate the thousands of travelers expected throughout December.
“For those who saw the lots and how full they were last Christmas, we did increase the number of spots. … We anticipate being able to accommodate all our passengers from a parking perspective, which is great,” Handy said. “We’ll have additional manpower out there as well to make sure folks get to the right spot, and we also want to continually remind folks that the airport has the most [inexpensive] parking option at $7 a day in the ‘green’ lot.”
When the airport opened its new $43 million short-term parking garage in November 2017, the two-story facility added nearly 1,200 spaces inside the Terminal Drive loop, bringing total airport parking to 8,674 spaces.
Short-term garage users, who typically leave their cars for 2.6 days, pay $25 for a 24-hour period. For longer-term parking, there are another 5,300 spots available at $12 per day.
A parking availability meter on the airport’s website displays in real time where spots are open – so drivers know where they are most likely to find a space. Smart-assist technology in the short-term garage guides drivers to open spaces. Handy expects similar technology will be added to the long-term garage in 2019.
All that new parking has increased parking-related revenues at the airport by about $4 million, Handy said, from almost $19 million in 2017 to a projected $23 million this year. Those funds go toward the airport’s operations and maintenance budget and to pay the debt on the $178 million price tag for the combination garage and Consolidated Rental Car Facility.
With the parking in place, discussions about how it is managed continue. Handy said the Airport Advisory Commission has been evaluating the effect on parking revenue of validations, or fee waivers, for veterans with specialty service license plates or those who are disabled.
“The amount of revenue we’re not collecting is growing exponentially, and we’re also seeing a number of veterans staying in the garages for unusually long durations,” he said. The state mandates that City-owned facilities provide such fee waivers, Handy said, so that policy won’t change. However, the number of days veterans can use the benefit might be reduced.
“Right now, disabled veterans, because they do get these fees waived, take up nearly all those ADA [Americans with Disability Act] spots in our short-term lot,” he said. “If you have a disability, and you’re not a veteran, right now it’s difficult to find a spot at all because some veterans are staying in those spots for a very long time.”
Officials at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport recently implemented a policy that does not allow validations in some of its parking facilities, Handy said, and the advisory commission is looking at that airport’s policy as an example for what might work in San Antonio.
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The problem isn’t only a lack of spaces. “As an enterprise within the City, we can’t spend millions to build facilities, and then provide unlimited, free parking,” he said, adding that a decision on how it will be managed hasn’t been made yet. “But no one is considering a blanket prohibition on fee waivers. We’re just trying to manage it.”
Meanwhile, the airport keeps getting busier. A final tally of the number of passengers who traveled through the airport in November wasn’t yet available, but Handy estimated it would be close to 900,000. Similar numbers are expected for December.
That trend would bring the total passenger count to a record-setting 10 million for 2018, a million more than the previous year.