The new parking gates at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport continue to be a source of frustration for airport commissioners.
At a meeting Thursday, commissioners criticized LAZ Parking again for poor outreach, saying that commissioners are hearing from angry customers on a regular basis about the new parking systems. Even though the short-term lot remains free for up to three hours, some customers have had issues just getting a printout as they try to enter the lot.
Robert Rosenbaum, the commission’s chairman, said he was charged $12 after spending four hours at the airport. He thought he would only be charged for one hour after the three “free” hours, he said. Rosenbaum said it’s also not clear how the Our Island Club Card comes into play, because he attempted to use it, but couldn’t figure out how to get the discount associated with it.
“It has been clear to be me from when this thing has been turned out, it has not been ready for prime time,” Rosenbaum said.
LAZ general manager Scott Woodbine said the Our Island Card, which offers a discount for parking, has to be validated on the way into the lot. Ann Richart, airport manager, said the club has informed customers how to use it in email blasts.
“That assumes people read them,” Rosenbaum said.
Thursday’s meeting was the second month in a row that airport commissioners have criticized the new parking lot gate and fee system.
“This has hurt the Island community and reflected badly on us as the airport, and this can’t go on like this. This can’t continue to happen,” Rosenbaum said. He suggested withholding management fees until the parking situation becomes more palatable.
Woodbine acknowledged receiving as many as 12 calls per day from airport customers. That’s dropped to an average of three per day, he said.
As she did last month, commissioner Kristin Zern criticized the outreach done by LAZ, saying it amounted to one press release that promoted the company and did little to help customers. She suggested putting up signs in the airport restaurant to detail how customers use the system.
The Times used the lot on Thursday, taking a ticket going in and upon leaving before three hours, scanned the code in front of the screen and the gate went up. There were no issues.
“How much are we getting out of it, because it’s just pissing everyone off?” commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes said.
Woodbine could not immediately produce how much revenue has been taken in as a result of the new system for the short-term lot, but said overall customers paid $21,000 in June.
Previously, the long-term lot had been on the “honor system,” which is why the gates were installed — to provide a revenue stream to help with airport operations.
Some people are just upset they can’t get away with parking for free anymore, Geoff Freeman, the airport’s assistant manager, said. “I find that very disheartening,” he said.
Freeman has been spending time representing the airport in the parking lots and hearing grievances and praise for the new system, he said. As he did last month, Freeman again asserted that the issue has to do with there being limited exposure to paid parking on the Island. “Did it get off to a rough start? Yes it did,” he said. He said people are starting to get into a rhythm with the system, and are understanding it better.
“I appreciate everyone’s feedback,” Woodbine said. “It’s a new gated system and users have to learn it, and it’s our job to help them.”
Gas station progress and budget debate
In other business, commissioners heard an update from Louis Paciello, who is building a gas station and car wash in the Airport Business Park. Paciello said he expects to open in August.
In answer to a question about the delay in opening, Paciello blamed the lawsuit by the previous leaseholder and some of the permitting issues with the town of Edgartown, as well as the difficulty in getting builders because of the boom on the Island and across the state.
“Every time I see another part come together, I get excited,” commissioner Peter Wharton said.
Matthew O’Brien of McFarland and Johnson, an airport consultant, reported to commissioners that progress continues on releasing lots for possible business expansion in the business park. The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing the draft request, and December remains a viable target for leasing vacant lots.
Vineyard Wind is looking to build a box hangar on airport property to house its helicopters during construction of a proposed wind farm off the southern coast of Martha’s Vineyard. O’Brien reported there are some issues with the site because it’s considered an environmental priority habitat because of the grasslands.
The airport will seek funding from a $1 billion omnibus spending bill aimed at the country’s small airports for possible expansion of the airport’s terminal building, O’Brien told commissioners.
Commissioners declined to endorse the airport’s operations budget, and instead supported commissioner Rich Michelson’s motion that they be given time to review the budget before sending it on to the county.
“I don’t feel comfortable voting this today without having time to study and discuss it,” Michelson said.
The commission will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, July 24, at 5 pm to consider its $6.6 million budget and to decide whether to charge more per gallon for wastewater flow.
Commissioners approved a consulting contract with Geoff Wheeler, who will receive $75 per hour, but not before they set some limits on how he’ll be used. Wheeler’s time will be limited to 100 hours per year, and any request to use his services will have to be reviewed by either the chairman or vice chairman of the airport commission.
When Rosenbaum suggested Wheeler might attend airport commission meetings, Barnes deadpanned, “Seventy-five bucks an hour to sit in a meeting. I’d like to get a piece of that action.”
The Fourth of July holiday wasn’t as big of a problem this year because it was smack-dab in the middle of the week, Freeman told commissioners. As a result the “calamity of traffic” the Fourth typically creates was avoided, he said.