Marion Young wasn't leaving on a trip Tuesday. She was just scouting the parking situation at John Wayne Airport in preparation for a weekend flight.
When she discovered that the long-term parking lot on Main Street across the San Diego Freeway from the airport will be closed when the new terminal opens Sunday, and that the alternative is going to cost her significantly more, she decided to leave her car at home.
"I think that's outrageous, but what can you do?" Young said. "I'll just have to have a friend drive me. You can buy an airline ticket to Seattle for what they want you to pay for four or five days (parking) here."
While $49 flights to Seattle are hard to find, many travelers will be paying that amount to park their cars for five days at the new Thomas F. Riley Terminal. That's a hefty increase from the $30 that travelers are accustomed to paying for the same amount of time in the Main Street lot.
Starting Sunday, the Main Street lot's 1,843 parking spaces that cost $6 per day will be closed. Customers will instead be directed to one of three parking garages next to the terminal and charged $14 for the first two days, $7 for each day after that.
"I think that's disgusting," said one business traveler from Costa Mesa who parked her minivan in the Main Street lot Tuesday. "I went over there (to the terminal parking) and pulled in and got to thinking that $14 is a lot. So I drove over here."
The county spent $86.3 million to build three garages next to the new terminal that nearly doubled the airport's parking capacity to about 8,400 spaces. One of the garages opened last year and currently charges a daily maximum rate of $12.
But beginning Sunday, all three garages will charge a maximum of $14 a day. The county arrived at that rate after calculating what was necessary to pay for the cost of construction and still remain competitive in the market, assistant airport manager Jan Mittermeier said.
Travelers indicated in surveys conducted for the county that they preferred parking closer to the terminal and were willing to pay more for the convenience, Mittermeier said. Most of those surveyed were business travelers.
Consequently, the county concluded that the Main Street lot, sometimes called the remote lot, would be unnecessary because of the new, ample parking and, in addition, inefficient to operate.
"If you have most parkers around the terminal--and that is what we believe most travelers will want--and we keep the remote lot open, I still have to run the shuttle out there every 10 or 15 minutes, even if only four cars are parked there," Mittermeier said. "It's just not cost-effective for us to have that lot open and run the shuttle."
Survey aside, Wayne Taylor, a salesman from Coto de Caza, is one business traveler who said Tuesday that he would prefer to park in the Main Street lot and ride the shuttle to the terminal to avoid the "hassles" of traffic. But he indicated that he will use the new parking facilities and let his company absorb the cost.
"I just pass the expenses on," Taylor said.
But Larry Nearing of Mission Viejo said the rate hike is prompting him to consider taking his business elsewhere. He said it would be worthwhile for him to drive the extra 15 minutes to Lindbergh Field in San Diego to avoid the ever-worsening traffic in and around John Wayne Airport and, now, the higher parking rates. Long-term parking at Lindbergh costs $7.50 a day.
"I guess it really hurts for someone to be dipping into my wallet and I don't have a choice," Nearing said.
After Saturday, the Main Street lot will be used only to accommodate overflow traffic during busy times such as holiday weekends, and if demand ever exceeds the new parking capacity, according to Phyllis Bartolini, manager of Ampco Parking, the company that runs the airport's parking facilities. Until then, the lot will remain empty and its shuttle buses in storage, Bartolini said.
Cars parked in the lot before Sunday can stay there, but shuttle service will cease Saturday night when Ampco Parking's old contract with the airport expires, said Bill Pemberton, an airport operations manager. To retrieve their cars, he added, people will have to take a taxi or walk to the lot.
If the Main Street lot is ever used again, it will have hourly rates of $1 and a maximum daily rate of $7.
Short-term parking is uneffected by the changes, with the hourly rate staying at $1.
"I'd rather pay half as much," vacation-flier Joe Wells from El Toro said. "But what choice do we have about it?"
PARKING CHANGES AT JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT Through Saturday No changes Short-term parking will continue to be in southwest parking garage (B1). Long-term parking continues at remote lot on Main Street. After Sunday Remote lot is closed to public. People who left cars there can get them out, but no new parking there will be permitted. No shuttle service for the remote lot. Short-term and long-term parking will differ only in price, not location. The east parking garage (A2, B2) and the northwest parking garage (A1) will open for the first time. PARKING RATES
Current Sunday Short-term $1 per hour $1 per hour Max.$12 per day Max.$14 per day Long-term $6 per day $14 per day