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In My Opinion

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There’s a change in direction for the airport, and it’s not good

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Maybe I owe you an apology. Maybe I’ve been wrong about this airport thing.

See, I’ve been saying since last year that this effort by the legislature to take the airport away from the city and hand it over to a regional commission was nothing more than a clumsy effort to insert fresh snouts into the rich hog trough that spins off millions of dollars a year.

Which is entirely accurate.

But I’ve opposed it, and urged you to do the same, because there is little wrong with the way the city ran the airport. It hatched the place out of a pasture during the Depression, and now Charlotte Douglas International is one of the busiest in the world.

What the legislature wanted to do was grab the airport so it wouldn’t be a political plum for the city. Instead, it would be a political plum for the commission the legislature invented.

If the airport were being run incompetently, then maybe a new approach would be in order. Maybe we’d need to get the transportation geniuses in Raleigh to swoop in and tell us how to do things right (Example of Raleigh transportation geniuses doing things right: Let’s alleviate congestion on I-77 by clogging it for years with construction so we can put in toll lanes for people who already pay for their roads with one of the highest fuel taxes in the nation).

Leave our airport alone, I said. They know what they’re doing.

Then comes this parking thing.

Last week, parking rates leaped by nearly 50 percent for some services and, by this time next year, will surge for hourly garages and long-term lots.

Because:

•  Somebody needs to help pay for spiffy new parking garages, even though the airport is drowning in so much cash it hands 40 percent of parking and concession profits to the airlines.

•  A study shows that Charlotte’s airport parking rates are waaaaay lower than those elsewhere.

•  There is no such thing as too much money.

I am baffled by the need to gouge locals, who make up about a quarter of the airport’s business. Being an American hub delivers plenty of pigeons lingering long enough to empty their pockets in sealed concourses positively packed with overpriced goods.

I am baffled by why an airport built by the city to serve the community has to apply its predatory magic on its own citizens.

I am baffled by the highly-complicated economic reality about raising rates, which is:

•  If we raise parking rates, we’ll make gobs of money.

•  If we don’t raise parking rates, we’ll still make gobs of money.

So, there I am. I figured we were better off with the city running the place because they seemed to be good at it. They seemed to have our best interests at heart. They seemed to be good stewards of the gobs.

Now, I think I had that wrong. Maybe I owe you an apology.

Or maybe someone owes all of us one.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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