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Council puts on hold plans for more parking at airport

Monday, October 1, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Thursday’s Austin City Council discussion about additional parking space at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport turned into a broader debate over transportation and the revenue that on-site parking brings to the airport.


Airport officials were hoping for Council approval to build a new parking lot and expand an existing lot to create more than 1,700 spaces.


But with Council Members Chris Riley and Bill Spelman ready to vote against additional parking, and Mayor Lee Leffingwell worried about a possible loss of revenue, Council Member Laura Morrison asked for a postponement.


She referenced a call from Riley for the city to provide some incentive to get airport employees out of their automobiles. “I might be able to get comfortable with this item if I could see how it fits in, and if there is some policy thought given to what we’re going to do long-term with the issues Council Member Riley has brought up,” she said.


Leffingwell continued to press the revenue angle as Council members readied to vote to postpone the item for three weeks. “When you do come back, I would like for you to talk a lot … more about the revenue that the airport derives from this parking,” he said.


Airport Executive Director Jim Smith told Council members that the additional spaces would make things easier on airport employees but employee spaces would not necessarily generate revenue for the airport.


Riley keyed in on the idea that more parking – without any potential incentives that might encourage airport employees to use alternate forms of transportation – would be counter-productive. “There are a lot of reasons that we would want to encourage other means of traveling,” he said. “One way to do that is to encourage employees to leave their car at home, and when they do that, we can make those spaces available to the traveling public and the proceeds from that can be used to support those incentives’ programs.”


Council Member Mike Martinez reminded Riley that many airport employees were service industry workers who might not be able to afford alternative parking, and that complicated schedule demands might prevent them from choosing alternative transportation. Riley later insisted that he wasn’t interested in forcing anyone to take alternate means of transportation, only in offering willing parties incentives to not drive.


“Right now, if somebody lives along East Riverside and doesn’t have a car because they can’t afford a car and maybe they can take a bus in, but if they’re an employee of a contractor … they’re not going to get any help with a bus pass, not going to get any support from the city, they’re on their own,” Riley said. “Whereas, if they’re rich enough to afford a car, we’re going to roll out the red carpet for you.”


There is the additional complication that many of the on-site airport vendors are City of Austin contractors. Thus, the city would have to deal with private firms if they were to extend some alternate transportation incentives to some employees at the facility.


The item will be back before Council on Oct. 18.

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