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DIA & USAirport Parking History

USAirport Parking – The Early Years

At it’s July 8, 1998 opening, USAirport Parking had approximately 20 employees. The DIA off-airport parking lot’s seven 13 passenger shuttle buses provided service to and from the Denver International Airport terminal. Business grew steadily during the first summer of operation, with car counts reaching the 800 car level by the end of summer.

Most of the customers came to DIA from the north, using Tower Road to access the airport. In 1998, there was no exit from Peña Boulevard to Tower Road, which limited business prospects from south of DIA. E-470 was not complete, and consisted of a small section of road between 120th and 56th Avenue and I-25 and Smoky Hill Road. Access to the Denver Airport on E-470 was not a practical option 1998. It was possible to get to DIA on a combination of E-470, Gun Club, and other surface streets, but relatively few airport travelers choose that route to Denver International. Customers who wished to park with USAirport Parking had to exit at 56th Avenue, and take Tower Road north to DIA.USAirport Parking - Locally Owned and operated Since 1998

Thanksgiving 1998 represented the first major holiday for Denver’s new airport parking facility. USAirport Parking reached the unprecedented car count of 2350. With typical car counts still below 1,000 cars, this was a major adjustment for the Tower Road parking facility. Although delays were generally minor, there were a few tense moments as the shuttle bus drivers transported three times as many passengers as had ever parked at USAirport before. Christmas 1998 car counts reached 2850, and Denver’s new airport parking facility was quickly one of the most successful off-airport parking lots in the country.

DIA Access Changes in 1999

During 1999, changes in access routes to DIA fueled growth. In August 1999, an off-ramp from Peña Boulevard to Tower Road opened, provided improved access to the facility from south of DIA. Additionally, the section of E-470 between Smoky Hill Road and 56th Avenue opened, providing continuous high speed access around the metro area from the south. Denver airport parkers from the south metro area or southern Colorado could now drive to DIA without battling city traffic or stoplights.

Car counts increased accordingly, with USAirport Parking filling to capacity for the first time during the Thanksgiving holiday in 1999, a little more than one year after opening.

Marketing efforts had been focused almost exclusively on the area north of 104th Avenue before the opening of E-470 from the south and the Peña to Tower off-ramp. The focus was now shifted to areas south of 104th Avenue, as USAirport Parking became less of a small airport parking lot only serving areas north of DIA, and began to become one the world’s largest airport parking facilities.

Marketing partnerships with Denver area Chambers of Commerce were used to promote USAirport Parking within the Denver metro area, and some outlying regions. USAirport Parking joined the Denver Metro Chamber, South Metro Chamber and the North Metro Chamber. The Fort Morgan Chamber and Washington County Chamber of Commerce received discounts at USAirport Parking.

Despite being a very new parking facility, USAirport Parking quickly parked more cars than any other off-airport parking facility in the United States, with the exception of the city of Detroit (Detroit has traditionally very little city-owned parking, although recent expansions of city-owned parking at the Detroit airport may soon reduce the number of cars parking at off-airport economy parking lots there, and make USAirport Parking the most popular private airport parking facility in the country).

DIA – A car parking airport!

Denver International Airport is roughly the tenth largest airport in the world. However, although exact statistics are difficult to obtain, DIA is one of the largest USAirport Parking Shuttle Busses for Denver International Airportairports in the world for automobile parking. Most other large international airports (ex: New York, Tokyo, London, etc.) are located on heavily used mass transportation systems, and most passengers reach the airport by means other than private automobile. Many other large airports are located inside large, developed metro areas, where land is expensive, parking space is limited, and parking prices are very high – sometimes twice or three times the price at DIA. Additionally, many large airports are surrounded by smaller airports that limit the distance people will drive to them.

In contrast, one must travel several hundred miles in various directions from DIA to find another “hub” airport. Air travelers from parts of eight states (Colorado, Wyoming, Western Nebraska, Western Kansas, Western South Dakota, Western North Dakota, Southern Montana, Northern New Mexico) drive to and park at Denver International Airport. Public ground transportation from the homes of outlying travelers to DIA is often either non-existent or prohibitively expensive, shuttle flights from small local airports are often infrequent and costly, and the option of having a friend or relative “drive you to the airport” is impractical when home is hundreds of miles from Denver International.
As of 2003, there were approximately 50,000 public, private and employee parking spaces serving Denver International Airport.

USAirport Parking – The best DIA Location?

USAirport Parking’s prime location near the sprawling intersection of Tower Road, Peña Boulevard, and E-470 positioned it to take advantage of the large number of travelers using airport parking at DIA. The vast area annexed by the City of Denver to construct Denver International Airport precluded most sites for an off-airport parking facility that would be easily accessed by all airport travelers. Located just north of the Denver/Adams County line, USAirport Parking has what may be the best possible location for an off-airport parking lot near DIA. Close to and accessible from E-470, Tower Road, 104th Avenue, 88th Avenue and Peña Boulevard, USAirport Parking is used by travelers using the many different routes used to reach Denver International.

Denver Airport Parking & 9/11

Like all travel-related businesses, USAirport Parking was severely impacted by the tragic events of 9/11. With air travel shut down for several days, activity at the Denver’s big off-airport economy parking lot slowed to a crawl. The USAirport shuttle buses began running to rental car facilities to pick up returning passengers instead of the terminal, as travelers found their way back to Denver International by means other than air travel. After the cars on the lot before 9/11 left, car counts were briefly below 1,000 cars, a level not seen for several years. For a short time, the future of USAirport Parking, like many other travel-related businesses, looked dim. City-owned airport economy lots emptied as well: The Pikes Peak, Mt. Elbert, East economy, and West economy parking lots looked almost abandoned.

However, a surprising combination of factors resulted in strong rebound for USAirport Parking in October 2001. The City and County of Denver had raised parking prices on September 1, 2001. Additionally, a number of short-term parking spaces in the DIA parking structure were eliminated by new security regulations designed to prevent vehicles from parking close to the airport terminal structure itself. Perhaps most importantly, highly publicized security searches of vehicles parking at city-owned parking facilities adjacent to the Denver International Airport terminal convinced many air travelers to investigate other DIA parking options. By using an off-airport or remote shuttle parking facility, travelers could avoid the lines, delays, and intrusions that the close – in DIA parking facilities now threatened. Although the actual time lost to vehicle searches at DIA was generally small, the amount of television coverage was large: National Guard troops supervising searches of vehicles at DIA was a great “photo op” for local media looking to highlight the local angle of the 9/11 story. Accordingly, the perception of many members the general public was that the parking at city – owned lots was simply too complex, and they sought out alternatives, such as USAirport Parking.

USAirport Parking’s post 9/11 rebound

In spite of a “travel recession” that resulted in substantial decrease in the number of air travelers and the number of cars parked at the airport, USAirport Parking actually grew during the troubled winter of 2001-02. In March 2002, USAirport Parking briefly and unexpectedly filled to capacity for the first time during other than the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays.

As a result of increased business, a reserved parking program was instituted by USAirport Parking in August 2002. The program was an immediate success for the big Denver airport parking lot. Customers really seemed to appreciate the security of a reserved parking space, with over one hundred parking reservations per day being made during the 2002 holiday season. Although the city-owned Denver International Airport parking lots seldom fill to capacity, individual lots within DIA do fill regularly. Additionally, as they near capacity, finding the open parking spaces can become problematic. In virtually every case the customers would have found space at USAirport Parking anyway, but the security of reserved parking added to their comfort. In June 2003, USAirport Parking began an expansion which would make Denver’s big off-airport lot the largest private airport parking facility in the world. When complete, USAirport parking would grow to 8,000 spaces, including about 600 covered parking spaces. Accordingly, the restrictions on holiday reservations were lifted in July 2003, and reservations for the 2003 holiday parking season began almost immediately. The 2003 completion of E-470 changed DIA access patterns, and created a new, popular route to USAirport Parking. Travelers could exit E-470 at 96th Avenue, take 96th to Tower Road, then travel south on 96th to USAirport.
In September 2003, USAirport Parking launched a television advertising campaign, with ads on KUSA Channel 9 TV. Ads on CBS Channel 4 would follow in October 2003. Initial response to the campaign was positive, with USAirport Parking receiving phone calls generated by the ads from the beginning of the campaign. Access changes were important to USAirport Parking in 2003. The completion of E-470 from I-25 in the south to I-25 in the north may, began to significantly change the route travelers use to access Denver International Airport. The late 2003 completion of the Northwest Parkway further increased the number of fliers using toll roads to the Denver airport.

USAirport Parking began a 4,000 space expansion of their existing facility, in 2003, with earthmoving beginning on June 16, 2003. The uncovered portion of the expansion was completed in fall 2003, but covered parking was not completed until Spring 2004.

USAirport Parking – The Success Continues

With the increase in June 2005 to $18/day for DIA’s close-in covered parking, USAirport Parking’s covered parking became a popular alternative. USAirport Parking expanded their covered parking to approximately 1,200 spaces in June. USAirport Parking covered parking had filled briefly a couple of times before the expansion was complete. Although USAirport Parking offers reservations, the big Colorado airport lot has always tried, by expanding parking spaces, to make their use unnecessary at most times. 2006 saw the addition of complimentary newspaper racks (USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Westword) by the front gate.

USAirport Parking’s Future

The outlook for USAirport Parking is positive.
A variety of marketing and co-promotional arrangements with large and small organizations, including Kroger (King Soopers and City Market grocery stores), AAA motor club, and hundreds of area travel agencies, provide USAirport Parking with a steady stream of new customers.
The large shuttle bus fleet (20 shuttle buses) operated by USAirport Parking both reduces customer wait times and serves as a powerful advertising tool for USAirport Parking: It’s hard to drive to DIA without seeing at least one USAirport Parking shuttle bus, and customers meeting any form of ground transportation on the fifth level of Denver International Airport will generally see several USAirport Parking buses. These buses are a visible demonstration of the continuing success of the “Biggest and Best in the West,” USAirport Parking.

On-Airport Parking at DIA

When Denver International Airport opened on February 28, 1995, it had limited parking available. However, over time, the City of Denver has increased the stock of parking at DIA. In 1995, according to a Denver International Airport press release, the airport began using the “south employee” lot (I believe, but I’m not sure, that this would later become the Mt. Elbert shuttle lot, located south of the airport and currently used an overflow lot for public parking) as a shuttle parking lot, to supplement the supply of parking spaces at the Denver Airport for the 1995 holiday season. The east and west economy lots were fully paved fairly early in the airport’s history. The airport’s supply of parking spaces at the end of 1995 was approximately 22,000. In 1997, the Denver airport added valet parking to their menu of parking choices. The Pikes Peak lot was created just south of Peña Boulevard, and open for business on November 1, 1998. A new employee parking lot was built closer to the terminal, and the old employee lot was fully converted into the Mount Elbert Holiday overflow lot. This lot was $1.00 cheaper than the Pikes Peak lot for a period of time (although, at an unknown point in the new millennium, the parking rates equalized) when used as an overflow parking lot in 1999.

Surprisingly, adding more parking hasn’t completely eliminated congestion. Many travelers seem to gravitate towards the closer in parking, leaving it overly full, and the outlying shuttle lots half empty during peak travel periods. Additionally, the more parking that is available, the more travelers seek to utilize the parking lots. During DIA’s early years, many travelers may have not parked out of fear of parking congestion – as parking availability increased, more chose to park, resulting in more parking congestion. Additionally, population growth in the DIA service area has increased airport traffic.

DIA’s parking income grew from 71 million in 1999 to 77 million in 2000, but fell back to 71 million in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks. Parking income for 2002 appeared to have rebounded to 2002 levels. Since 2002, parking income has steadily improved at DIA, and 2006 parking income will probably be over $100 million dollars. Although DIA’s parking rates have increased significantly since the airport opened, rates remain below the rates at many other large airports, as DIA airport officials are quick to point out.
The city has several parking lots at DIA, with an estimated 37,500 public parking (not counting the DIA employee parking lot) spaces (DIA 2005 estimate, from Denver International Airport press release):

  • The east and west garages, close-in covered parking. Valet parking, at a significant daily surcharge, is available as well.
  • East and west economy parking, just outside of the garages.
  • The Pikes Peak shuttle lot – the everyday shuttle lot on Peña Boulevard’s south frontage road (75th Avenue).
  • The 9000-space Mt. Elbert holiday overflow lot. Only open when other lots are full – located off Jackson Gap road south of DIA.
  • The employee parking lot is just north of Peña Boulevard.
  • Handicapped parking is offered at all areas except level 3 of the garage.

Denver’s Airport Parking Future

Despite steady increases in the parking charges for all parking facilities serving DIA, the absolute number and percentage of customers parking at DIA has tended to increase over time. Improving parking availability with the opening of USAirport Parking, increased public awareness of the existence and location of off-airport parking serving DIA, the expansion of city-owned facilities on DIA property, and the improved diffusion of these facts via the Internet have increased public confidence in their ability to find a suitable parking space at Denver International Airport. Additionally, many travelers have come to realize that Denver International Airport is a lot further from home than Stapleton was – having a friend or relative drop off and pick up is a considerable waste of time and fuel.
Denver International Airport, Parking Corporation of America, PCA, DIAValuePark, Allright Parking, and Premier Parking are probably registered trademarks of somebody. USAirport Parking is not affiliated with these organizations, does not represent them, and is not them.