According to the Near Airport Parking Industry Trade Association (Napita), off-airport parking facilities served more than 10 million customers in 2019 and employed upwards of 12,000 people. These days, however, the industry is suffering from the plunge in air travelers due to Covid-19. But unlike airlines and airports, off-airport parking companies haven't been designated by Congress for federal help. Airlines editor Robert Silk spoke with Jeff Foland, Napita chairman and the CEO of the Parking Spot, about the challenges facing his company and the industry.
Q: How far down is business at the 37 Parking Spot locations year over year?
A: We are quite linked to air travel and the movement of people in general. When the economy started to shut down, we dropped almost 95% as an industry. We very much mirror the airline traffic. At this point we are between 75% and 80% down.
Q: In response, the Parking Spot has diversified into storage a bit, right? Are your competitors doing similar things?
A: To a degree. Prior to the pandemic we at the Parking Spot had been working quite hard on various forms of diversified revenue streams. All that the economic shutdown did was shine a very bright light on the importance of that type of business. We happen to be the largest player in the market, so we have the scale to handle national-based contracts. We also own most of the real estate upon which we operate. Many others don't own the land.
We have worked to find creative ways to best leverage portions of our real estate for various business uses, be it cargo, equipment storage, shipping and logistics storage for various transportation vehicles; also the storage of rental cars while the cars were dormant during the slow period in travel. That being said, the precipitous decline in air travel has had a significant impact on revenue, not just from a volume standpoint but also from a competitive rate standpoint. There's a lot of supply chasing much more limited demand.
Q: The near-airport parking industry didn't get singled out for help in the Cares Act like airlines and airports did. What is Napita asking for from Congress?
A: We find ourselves in a predicament. There were some players that were of a size that allowed them to access the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) small-business loans. The airports themselves got a considerable amount of funding, which allows them to use a portion of that to leverage their parking asset. As such, there are a small number of large national players who were too large for the PPP loans and essentially slipped through the cracks of these government funding programs. We've been working very hard speaking with various leaders in congressional offices about the need to find a solution so that we have a level playing field for everyone in the marketplace. The industry is going to make it through this slow period. Some players may not make it. But by and large the industry will. It's a vital part of the air travel ecosystem.
Q: So what does Congress need to do to fix things?
A: I don't have a prescriptive solution at this point in time. There are new rounds of funding that they are working their way through. Our request is to be more specifically included as part of the air travel ecosystem. It could come in the form of more specific language in these new packages and it could come in the form of regulatory adjustments that can be made to some of the programs that have already been released.
Q: Napita has been frustrated with airports. Have they worked with off-airport parking facilities in any way to ease the cost burden?
A: Airports are important and strong partners for this industry. We have a very tight and symbiotic relationship. At this point in time there has been very limited support from any of the airports with respect to access fee reductions or waivers or forgiveness.
Q: Is that what you need from airports?
A: A reduction in fees relative to the travel demand in the marketplace would be welcomed. Just as important, we want to continue working with them very closely on topics coming out of this, such as curb congestion and access to the curb that is equitable across the various ground transportation participants.