Parking rates ascending at Charlotte's airport

Monday will bring more expensive parking to the Charlotte airport, which could help cool the often-fiery debate over the number of cheap spaces.

Right now, most travelers who park at the airport for more than a day choose between long-term and remote parking – which costs $3 a day and requires a shuttle bus – or daily parking at $6 a day, which is closer to the terminal.

While the less expensive lots require travelers to take a shuttle, many cherish the cheaper option – so much that they become irate when long-term and remote parking fill up, forcing them to the double-the-price daily lot and decks.

Daily parking still is cheaper at Charlotte/Douglas International than at other Carolinas airports, but that doesn't matter to travelers who expect to pay only $21 while gone for the week and suddenly find themselves facing a $42 bill.

That math gets shaken up Monday, though, when the rate for long-term parking – with roughly 7,600 spaces – rises to $4 a day. Even worse for bargain hounds, remote parking's more than 1,400 spaces will jump to $6 a day, matching daily parking, which stays the same.

The changes aim “to even out demand for the lots,” said Jerry Orr, the airport's director, adding that parking still will be cheaper than at most other Carolinas airports.

Although it's been grouped with long-term for years, remote parking is actually more similar to daily parking as far as getting to the terminal, Orr said. Shuttle rides can even be shorter than those from daily parking, he said, between the remote lot's proximity and small size.

As for the bump in long-term parking, Orr said it “narrows that gap” between those lots and daily parking, and likely won't change anyone's preference for long-term – a sentiment echoed by area travelers.

Long-term is “still far cheaper than every other major airport I frequent,” said John Hewett, a consultant for nonprofit and faith-based organizations across the U.S.

Mark Weber agreed. “Parking is still very much a bargain here and much more convenient to travelers than (in) many other cities,” the Charlotte financial project consultant said.

Future plans

The last hike in airport parking rates was the spring of 2005, when the first of two new daily decks opened. Daily parking rose from $4 a day to $6, while long-term went from $2.75 to $3.

The combination of higher rates and more travelers at Charlotte/Douglas International – No. 10 among U.S. airports in domestic passenger traffic this year – has boosted the airport's parking revenues. In the last three years, money from parking has jumped almost 38 percent to more than $34 million in 2007-08 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

This week's rate increase likely will boost revenues even more, which should help with big parking projects that are under way or on the horizon.

Workers have almost finished grading land at Wilkinson Boulevard and Harlee Avenue for a 3,200-space deck that will be used for business valet parking and possibly long-term parking, Orr said. The goal is to have the deck open by Thanksgiving 2009.

Closer to the terminal, the airport plans to revamp hourly parking – building half of a roughly 7,000-space deck before knocking down the two existing short-term decks and building the second half of the new deck on that site. That project is in the early stages, however, and the first part of the new deck won't open for at least two years, Orr said.

With all the changes, signs directing travelers to parking areas may be more important than ever, and the airport has plans for those, too.

Companies soon will bid to replace the current hodge-podge of overhead signs and temporary roadside displays with new signs that can provide immediate updates and other messages, Orr said. Those signs could be in place by next summer, he said.

Does that mean an end to the somewhat shoddy white sandwich boards that are now moved around long-term and remote parking areas to steer people to open lots?

“Yes, for crying out loud,” Orr said.