Making air travel a little easier.” From greeting customers at check-in with a complimentary copy of USA Today to sending them home with a free bottle of water, The Parking Spot strives to provide hotel-style airport shuttle service.
The Parking Spot, headquartered in Chicago, was founded nearly seven years ago and now operates 12 locations at seven major airports across the country. The company offers door-to-door parking-to-airport terminal service, covered parking areas, luggage assistance and well-lit and fully fenced locations.
With bright yellow, spotted shuttles that run every five to seven minutes, The Parking Spot looks “to be the best and we think that we are, in most facets of our business,” says Josh Warthman, general manager of the Sepulveda location near the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Despite years of experience in the field, The Parking Spot still faces many obstacles and challenges in pursuit of operating a successful fleet. These hurdles are being faced head on and addressed before a greater issue develops.
Managing rising fuel costs
Warthman reports high fuel costs as the greatest monthly expense at his location. By finding out when its customers are returning, The Parking Spot can have more shuttles running during peak arrival times. Thus, overnight and other periods of low traffic are when the least number of shuttles are operating.
“It’s a matter of dispatching your shuttles, making sure you know where they are at all times and assuring that they are not making extraneous trips,” Warthman says. “This can only be achieved through constant monitoring of our fleet.”
The Parking Spot is also considering the replacement or addition of buses that would be slightly easier on fuel economy. These shuttles would run exclusively during the airport’s graveyard shift when traffic is lighter. The shuttles that are currently being considered carry fewer passengers but would still achieve the level of service the company looks to maintain, according to Warthman.
“Part of the management is driver training and really just trying to work with our drivers so they avoid a lot of sudden acceleration and stops,” says Mark Wildman, vice president of marketing for The Parking Spot. “Especially in L.A., where the weather is more temperate, we don’t have to run the air conditioning as hard as we do in other markets. This conserves fuel.”
Beyond practicing routine conservation techniques, there is not much more that The Parking Spot, or any other parking lot shuttle company, can do to combat the high cost of fuel. Travelers expect a shuttle to be at the airport to pick them up every five to seven minutes so “it’s really just a cost we have to deal with,” Wildman says.
Overcoming heavy traffic
Though traffic can be an issue anywhere, the heavy congestion at LAX can throw any airport shuttle operation into a tailspin. When travelers are relying on a set schedule, airport traffic can cause upset patrons and cranky drivers. An added number of private passenger vehicles is causing LAX to be increasingly difficult to navigate, especially for large shuttle buses.
“With heavier traffic it is important to manage and dispatch our shuttles to specific locations, making sure our drivers are communicating where traffic, other shuttles and customers are,” Warthman says. “It’s important to know if there is an accident, street closure or other situation that could have an adverse effect on the time it takes us to pick up our customers. These types of scenarios can have a serious impact on how we manage our operation.”
Traffic management might be less stressful if more air travelers chose to use parking shuttle operations such as The Parking Spot. “Ideally, you would like to see people parking off airport. This would leave the limited amount of road space for hotel, rental car and parking shuttles while taking private automobiles off the road,” Wildman says.
Wanted: quality drivers
Seeking out quality drivers while keeping existing drivers satisfied is not always easy. The people at The Parking Spot have found that word-of-mouth referrals are most likely to yield reliable new recruits. “In the past we advertised employment opportunities in local newspapers but have since found that our best hires come from existing team members who understand the qualities we look for in an employee,” Warthman says.
Soon after a new driver arrives on staff, it is important that training is provided. These training sessions often cover a wide range of issues, including safety and customer service.
At The Parking Spot, the first three days of new-hire training consists of a ride-along program where a new driver will accompany a lead driver on his/her route.
Customer service training, known at The Parking Spot as the Guest Excellence Program, involves a manual that supervisors will review, on-the-job training and a series of informative videos.
Throughout the company, retaining drivers is important. As a result, the Spotlight on Service Program, available to all employees, is a rewards program where drivers can earn a $50 gift card for demonstrating outstanding customer service or safety. When four supervisor signatures are accumulated, the reward is presented.
Additionally, if all Parking Spot drivers complete a 90-day period with no accidents and absent of worker’s compensation-related injury, everyone in the company receives a $50 bonus. The Parking Spot also weighs the driver’s safety record when figuring the annual bonus.
“We try to ensure that attainable incentives are in place for our drivers to both follow policies and procedures of the company and then to also reward them for good service and safe care,” Warthman says.
Providing for the customer
The Spot Club Card is part of a customer loyalty program which allows The Parking Spot customers to receive five points for every dollar spent. The points can then be redeemed for free parking vouchers. A large percentage of the company’s customers are business travelers who come in and out frequently. The benefit is they can use the points for their personal use. “It’s another way that we reward customers and let them know that we care about them as well as their continued patronage,” Warthman says.
When used in conjunction with a credit card, the Spot Card can also be used for express checkout, meaning the customer can enter and exit the facility without ever seeing a cashier.
“We try to get the traveler home a little bit quicker, and we’ve had some really great feedback from this program,” Warthman says.
As with any business, mistakes happen that are often unavoidable. It’s the way in which these mishaps are handled, though, that can set a company apart from its competitors. The Parking Spot encounters problems in its operation that are both self-inflicted and out of the company’s control, according to Warthman.
“Our No. 1 priority in these situations is to make sure the customer walks away feeling we did our best to ensure their satisfaction in how we handled it,” Warthman says. “If there’s an off situation, we make sure we really look at what happened and how we may handle it differently in the future.”