Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Ramps Up Parking Options

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

As Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) moves further through its $2.69 billion Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program, customers parking at Terminal A will benefit from a completely rebuilt structure equipped with new technology. 

The $176 million Terminal A parking project is a three-phase undertaking slated to be fully complete in June. The first phase opened in March 2013, along with Phase 1 of the Terminal A renovation. When all three phases are complete, the structure will add nearly 7,800 spaces to DFW's on-airport parking, bringing its total to 42,000. 

At 2.9 million square feet, the five-level parking facility is the largest new structure built at DFW since Terminal D and its Skylink intra-airport train system opened in 2005, note airport officials.

Ken Buchanan, DFW's executive vice president of revenue management, says that the new parking facility provides much needed capacity improvements at DFW and updates 40-year-old structures that were in dire need of customer service improvements.

"We had very old facilities that required a significant amount of time to locate those individual parking spots when we were near full," Buchanan says.

The former parking landscape at Terminal A included three separate parking structures with low ceilings and very little natural light. Ramps made it impossible for customers to see across the facility to locate available spots, and the multiple-story structures lacked elevators. "It was just not conducive to today's environment," Buchanan notes. "Customers value convenience and speed. The old facilities were a barrier to that."

Project: Parking Garage Renovation
Location: Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Airport
Size: 5 levels; 2.9 million sq. ft.; 7,793 spaces 
Cost: $176 million
Engineer of Record: Jacobs Engineering Group
Construction Manager at Risk: JV Balfour Beatty Construction; Azteca Enterprises; H.J. Russell & Co; Carcon Industries
Parking Planner: Walker Parking Consultants
Parking Guidance System: Indect USA

Walker Parker Consultants assisted DFW in correcting the issues as parking planner for the project. "They were working with the original structures, which were outdated in the layout and ease of pedestrian conveniences," summarizes Casey Wagner, the firm's senior vice president. "Just finding an open space was a challenge."

Simplifying the Hunt

An electronic parking guidance system from Indect USA was added to help drivers find open spaces quickly and efficiently. The system includes a series of ultrasonic sensors installed above each parking space that detect whether a vehicle is present, explains Indect Director Dale Fowler. That information switches on a light at the front of each parking spot: Red if a stall is occupied, and green if it's available. Blue lights indicate handicapped-accessible spaces; white lights designate one- or two-hour parking, depending on the garage.

Parking signage is electronically linked to the individual spaces, so customers are notified about how many spaces are available on each floor as they pull into the parking ramp. Subsequent signs then indicate how many spaces are available in each direction. From there, customers are guided to open spots by the colored lights above each space.

Indect demonstrated the technology for DFW officials in 2012 by equipping about 50 spaces with its system. Moving forward, the airport required the technology to be demonstrably 99.9% accurate upon deployment and made Indect's payments contingent on the system passing a 20-day test. 

"They realized the key to the success of this technology was accuracy," Fowler explains, agreeing with the airport's position. "If a system isn't accurate, customers will ignore the system, and it becomes a waste of money." With the Indect equipment passing initial and subsequent tests, the airport is pleased with its new technology - so pleased that it deployed the same system in the Terminal D parking structure and plans to install it in Terminal E parking as well.

The technology allows DFW to maximize the use of its parking assets, notes Buchanan. For example: In the older facilities, a parking structure is declared full when it reaches about 85% capacity, because it's so difficult for visitors to find the other 15% of spaces that are available. Buchanan likens the search to finding a needle in a haystack: "People end up going from floor to floor, winding up and down just to find that one space that's available." To help, the airport often dispatches personnel to direct passengers to open spaces.

The system also helps the airport manage its parking operations through reporting features that provide DFW personnel with historical data, such as average length of stay or how many times a space turns over each day. Fowler says this is important, because before the system was installed, some visitors stayed "substantially longer" than their time limits. Now, the average length of stay in a one-hour spot is 54 minutes.

To further improve customer service, DFW provides information about parking availability on its website and mobile applications. "People want to plan and prepare for their trip," Buchanan says. "We can provide this information to customers ahead of time." Information about available spaces is within five minutes of a real-time feed, he adds.

"DFW is very focused on providing a great customer experience," Fowler says, noting that its new parking technology gives the airport a competitive advantage. As another customer amenity, DFW recently extended its free wireless access from the terminal into the parking structure.

Improved Circulation

Separating parkers from the general traffic by pulling them off the airport's International Parkway was key to the Terminal A parking project, says Wagner. "That alleviated a huge congestion problem," he says.

An external circulation system also helps get parkers to the first available space more quickly and efficiently, he adds: "You're not driving past row after row of occupied spaces."

Now that the garage is one building rather than three separate structures, the roadway system is easier to navigate as well, Buchanan reports. "It's very easy to just go right into the garage and travel through all sections from the inside vs. having to go in and out onto the roadway," he explains.

"That goes back to their (DFW's) commitment to customer service," notes Wagner. 

Phasing for the project was planned and executed so only one of three sections was closed at a time for construction. The airport also expanded its valet operation and offered valet parking for the same rate as terminal parking. "Because we know they are time-pressed and we've taken an entire garage out of commission, we knew that we needed to offer an opportunity for people to be easily accommodated," Buchanan explains. 

Customer Input

As it does with so many other issues, DFW asked customers about parking before making any changes. "We survey our passengers constantly and ask them what it is they want, the type of experience they want at DFW," Buchanan comments. "And then we go to work to try to provide that."

Parking, they discovered, is all about speed and convenience. 

Surveys showed that most DFW passengers do not use the airport's parking facilities, Buchanan reports. They are dropped off at the curb, take cabs, rideshare or park offsite instead. Among the various reasons, DFW personnel identified convenience as a common theme. Many travelers find it more convenient to arrange a ride or park offsite than drive through a construction zone or search for that needle-in-a-haystack parking spot, he explains. "We want to invite those customers who are not parking with us for convenience back, because we feel we've taken care of those concerns they've had," Buchanan says. "We can attract those customers back and ultimately grow our revenue as a result."

Currently, parking adds $135 million to DFW's annual budget, making it the airport's largest source of non-aeronautical revenue.

Feedback from focus groups underscored the importance of ensuring that customers feel safe - especially after dark. In addition to building a well-lit garage with emergency callboxes throughout the facility, the airport operates its valet business out of the parking garage, so there are always employees in the structure, Buchanan explains. 

Large, high-speed elevators were installed to accommodate passengers and their luggage, and take them directly into the terminal. "It's just a matter of a few steps, and you're in the terminal," Buchanan says. "That's something we try to maintain here at DFW."

Other customer convenience elements added to the Terminal A parking garage include: covered walkways at terminal entries, higher clearances to accommodate vehicles carrying mobility aids and a pedestrian bridge that connects in-field parking to the garage.

Looking Ahead

DFW planned for the future by installing an information backbone capable of accommodating additional parking needs or products that may arise, notes Buchanan. And the airport is already considering more enhancements. 

Ideas under consideration include reserved parking areas and variable rates within facilities based on length of stay - service improvements that are possible because of the airport's new parking control system, he adds. 

"As an airport, we strive to provide a better experience for our passengers," Buchanan states. "We know passengers in this day and time have a choice on how they want to connect and travel. We want to make it easy for them to choose DFW Airport."


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