The Future of Airport Curbside Congestion is Remote (Part 4)



As technological innovations allow airports to serve more passengers within the same terminal space, landside access to airports has become increasingly crowded. This is the fourth and final post in our series examining the causes of landside congestion, the additional problems it creates, and the design solutions available to reduce overcrowding and extend the useful life of an airport terminal.
Click here for the rest of the series.

So far in this series, we’ve looked at the underlying causes of airport curbside congestion, its impact on the design of airport roadways and signage, and the three main strategies for fighting it. To wrap things up, I sat down with Grant Clifford to discuss the environmental benefits of addressing curbside congestion and what the future may hold for airport planners everywhere. Grant is GS&P’s principal in charge of the consolidated rental car facility (ConRAC) and automated people mover (APM) project at Tampa International Airport (TPA), a $730 million program currently under construction. Some of the lessons learned implementing this program will be used as examples during this final post. 
 
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Wilson Rayfield (WR): We’ve discussed in previous posts how reducing curbside congestion can improve the passenger experience and extend the useful life of an existing airport terminal. One aspect we haven’t focused on yet is the beneficial impact for the environment.
 
Grant Clifford (GC): It’s an important factor that shouldn’t be overlooked, and TPA offers a good example. Once the airport’s new ConRAC and APM are in service, they’ll eliminate more than 8,500 trips per day along the airport’s main roadway just from shuttling rental vehicles alone. A remote curbside is being constructed as part of the program, with additional future expansion capability planned for, which will help to reduce curbside congestion as traffic grows over time and also help extend the useful life of the main terminal complex.


This rendering shows the connection between Tampa International Airport’s new APM, ConRAC and existing economy garages.

WR: The APM connects to the existing economy parking garages, which will allow the airport to eliminate shuttle bus service between the terminal and these facilities. In total, TPA expects 2.7 million fewer vehicle miles traveled on airport roadways every year, reducing annual carbon emissions by 1,617 tons. In addition, a new solar panel array on the south economy garage can generate 5 MW, which is equivalent to the energy required to run the APM train. The panels will cut airport emissions even further and reduce operating costs by about $8.5 million a year.
 
GC: Of course, it’s not unusual for departing passengers with rental cars full of heavy luggage to drive up to the terminal to check their bags before returning the car so they don’t have to haul the bags around after. That’s why the design for TPA’s ConRAC includes a remote bag check facility to further reduce rental car traffic at the terminal curbside and provide a high level of customer service at the ConRAC. 

A construction shot of the station and guideway that will serve the economy parking garages, which GS&P also designed. Photo by Aerial Innovations.
WR: What’s interesting is that these projects weren’t really on TPA’s radar until recently. The airport’s previous master plan called for the construction of a second terminal but no ConRAC or APM. Once TPA realized the passenger bottleneck wasn’t inside the terminal but just outside it at the curb, their capital improvement plans changed dramatically.
 
GC: That’s a key point. As improved technology allows terminals to process more passengers with less real estate, airports should make sure their master plans are still positioning them to meet future demand in the most surgical and efficient way.
 
WR: Technology is always changing as well, so you can’t ever stop preparing for the future. Look at how airlines are beginning to use RFID chips instead of paper barcodes to tag and track luggage. By doing so, they’re making baggage handling faster and more efficient, which opens the door to new possibilities like separating the bags of arriving passengers by their mode of transportation away from the airport.
 
GC: It’s not hard to imagine arriving passengers who will leave the airport via rideshare, public transportation or personal vehicles all going to different, conveniently placed baggage claim areas. Passengers heading to a ConRAC or airport hotel might even find their luggage waiting in the trunk of their rental cars or in their hotel rooms.

Airports could one day direct bags to different carousels or claim areas based on an arriving passenger’s chosen mode of ground transportation.
WR: Reinventing baggage handling in this manner could further increase the capacity of existing terminal buildings, and use of APMs could drive even more demand for remote facilities. The technology isn’t quite there yet, but airports should consider preserving space for something like it in their master plans so they have options when the time comes.
 
GC: It really boils down to the fact that as airports decentralize their curbs, customers will come to expect the ability to check and claim their bags in a decentralized way as well. By extension airports will want to meet that need.
 
WR: Long-term, we may even see airports unbundle their customer experience along the lines of Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air by charging a fee for the convenience of using the terminal curbside while keeping access to remote curbsides and facilities free. Airports have already taken a step in that direction by letting passengers choose to pay more to park close to the terminal or pay less to park farther away.
 
GC: The future of airport curbsides could be remote and might be here before we know it.
 
WR: That’s the truth! If you found this topic interesting, don’t miss the rest of our series on airport curbside congestion. You can click the following links to read parts one and two and three.

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