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Chris Jones

McCarran Garage Parking Fee to Rise to $12; Remote Lot Fee to Fall to $6

16 February 2005

It's been said the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. And as far as those who park their automobiles at McCarran International Airport are concerned, the lords of the county did both Tuesday.

By a 6-0 vote, the Clark County Commission rejected a request to raise daily parking fees at McCarran's long-term parking garage from $10 to $14. Instead, a lesser increase was approved, and patrons will be charged $12 per day beginning March 29.

The commission, which oversees Southern Nevada's public airports, also asked County Aviation Director Randall Walker to reduce daily fees at McCarran's remote parking lot from $8 to $6. Walker initially requested a $1 reduction but added he is OK with his bosses' differing recommendations, at least through the end of this year.

"Our whole goal here is not to raise revenue. Our goal is to drive behavior," said Walker, who will early next year re-examine Tuesday's changes to ensure they've balanced parking demand and offset the cost of providing parking at one of the nation's busiest airports.

The commission also enabled Walker to raise daily rates at McCarran's long-term garage and remote lot to $20 and $10, respectively, if the problem continues.

After receiving numerous complaints from drivers frustrated by last year's frequent closures of McCarran's public garage, the county aviation department and an outside consulting firm recently studied how to resolve the problem.

A lack of available land ruled out a new garage near McCarran's main complex, so airport officials concluded a wider disparity in parking rates would force customers to self-regulate the recent parking shortfall.

Those willing to pay a premium could continue parking in the garage, Walker reasoned, while those who value money more than time would receive a discount for parking farther away.

The current system, which offers just a $2 price difference between the garage and remote lot, is not enough incentive to keep drivers from first trying the garage, he said.

"It creates a very inconsistent experience for our customers," said Walker, who referenced drivers' frustration after they learned they had to unexpectedly divert to the remote lot off Russell Road and wait 15 to 25 minutes for a shuttle.

Several factors have contributed to McCarran's recent parking crunch, including post-Sept. 11, 2001, security restrictions that eliminated public access to 1,550 of the 7,550 parking spaces located above and directly east of the airport's main terminal.

In addition, McCarran last year handled nearly 41.5 million arriving and departing passengers, a 57-year record. An estimated 12 percent of those travelers live in or around Las Vegas, and those locals' vehicles have in recent months overwhelmed parking capacity.

Walker said McCarran's public garage closed during portions of 95 days last year after its spaces were filled. Such shutdowns, which varied in length and frequency depending on the date, forced drivers to remote parking areas.

McCarran's parking count last year was nearly 718,000 vehicles, up 10.4 percent from 2003's nearly 650,000 vehicles that exited its garage, valet and remote parking areas.

Thanks largely to last year's frequent closures, its garage parking count dipped by nearly 10,400 vehicles while the remote lot's total increased by nearly 60,000 vehicles.

That trend probably will continue since McCarran didn't open its remote lot on a widespread basis until May 12, Walker said. The increased use of shuttles will cost the county more than $746,000 in the current fiscal year, up from $143,522 and $101,370 in fiscal 2004 and 2003, respectively.

Next year, the airport budget will require $1.2 million to $1.5 million for shuttles to and from the remote lot, said McCarran spokeswoman Elaine Sanchez.

Any leftover funds from Tuesday's increase will pay for capital improvements at McCarran.

Walker added the airport is working on a public relations campaign to increase people's awareness of the differing parking options at McCarran. That campaign will include an important name change.

"People think `remote' is far away," Walker said. "We need to change the name to `economy' (lot) so people know that's what it is: the cheaper lot."

Commissioner Bruce Woodbury said he received comments from several constituents who were concerned about Walker's proposed fee changes. One asked whether funds raised by the proposed fee increases could be used to cover spaces at the now-open remote lot.

Walker said that idea was unfeasible because the lot will likely be relocated within four to five years as the first phase of Terminal 3's proposed parking garage opens.

Construction of Terminal 3 would shift McCarran's remote lots to one of two locations north of the airport's existing complex, Walker said. Additional garages were considered for those locations but were later ruled out as too expensive.

Walker also received permission to raise the daily rates for McCarran's 700-space valet parking lot to $18. However, McCarran for now plans to charge only $16 per day, or $2 more than today's valet rate.

Those using the airport's 900-space short-term garage, which limits patrons to stays of three hours or less, will continue to pay 25 cents per 10 minutes. The commission said the aviation department can now charge up to $3 per hour there, though no such plan is proposed.