Reserved spaces, fluctuating rates: City looks for private proposals to ‘optimize’ airport parking

SAT garages closed temporarily more than 50 times in 2022 because they were full

San Antonio – The City of San Antonio is looking for more lucrative ways to make use of the more than 9,000 parking spaces at the San Antonio International Airport by privatizing its management.

The city is preparing to ask outside companies for proposals on managing and maintaining the airport’s parking, likely with the use of new technology and services like the ability to reserve spaces in advance. City officials think “parking optimization” could boost parking revenues - estimated to bring in $28.5 million in FY 2023 - by 30% to 50%.

The city also has plans to increase the number of spaces in the future, but parking is already an issue at the airport. The airport has temporarily closed its garages more than 50 times in 2022 because there was no more space.

“We would close them occasionally for some of the holidays, whether it’s the Thanksgiving or the Christmas holidays,” said Director of Airports Jesus Saenz Jr.. “On occasion, they would close but never with this frequency.”

The airport also has “economy” parking farther away on surface lots, which requires a shuttle ride to the terminals.

Aviation Department officials said “yield management” practices - essentially raising and lowering parking prices based on demand - could help the garages stay below capacity.

However, Saenz said the city is not looking to raise the parking rates above where they currently are - between $8 and $27 per day, depending on the garage or lot.

“This specific request for proposal has nothing to do with price changes in our parking lots. Zero. That’s not something that we’re considering right now,” Saenz told reporters after a council briefing on Wednesday.

The airport also has valet parking for $33 per day. Increasing the use of that, Saenz said, could also be part of the “parking optimization.”

The airport parking is currently managed by 61 city employees, but City Manager Erik Walsh said they would not lose their jobs if the airport parking operation is privatized.

He indicated instead during the Wednesday briefing that the city could find other roles for them.

The cost of any contract is yet to be determined, as it would depend on the specific proposal and with what the city eventually decides to move forward.

“So we’ve left it open,” Saenz told council members during a briefing Wednesday. “We want to see what’s going to be best. We may just do the equipment. We may just look back and say, we just want to do the shuttle operation. We may come back and say we want to do the entire package.”

The city has not yet put out an official request for proposals, which is expected to happen within 60 days. Saenz estimated it would take nine to 12 months to put any plan in play.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.