A commuting friend of mine sent me a rather long email he received from Ken Kundmueller, president of FreedomPark, the valet parking service at D/FW Airport. Kundmueller says D/FW has restricted his company’s access to the one-hour parking area, which isn’t so good for business, because there have been four complaints about congestion. That alone wouldn’t be email-passing-along-worthy, not to mention blog-worthy. But Kundmueller adds that D/FW is going to allow a different company to do what FreedomPark did. The email reads in part,
In other words, FreedomPark is being moved out, after having successfully served D/FW for almost 7 years, and the airport’s California operator is moving in, under the pretext that there is too much congestion.
To read it in full, check out after the jump.
Update: The situation has been resolved.
If you like the valet services provided by FreedomPark, you will want to read this email.
My obligation to you as a FreedomPark customer is to protect your interests as they relate to the services we provide. In that regard I hesitate to be an alarmist, but it is my responsibility to inform you that the management staff at D/FW Airport is taking steps that will, in our opinion, threaten the continuation of the service that you have come to expect from FreedomPark.
The reason for the alarm is that D/FW Airport has notified FreedomPark and the other off-airport valet parking companies that effective January 1, 2008, we will not be able to meet customers in the One Hour parking
areas at any terminal at D/FW. The reason given for this new restriction is that the airport has received 4 complaints about congestion in the One Hour parking areas, and the congestion is being attributed to valet parking activity in those areas.
It is important to point out that D/FW Airport intends to launch its own valet parking operation in January 2008 using a California-based company as the operator, and we have been told that these restrictions now being forced on FreedomPark and its customers will not apply to the California-based operator of D/FW’s version of valet parking. In other words, FreedomPark is being moved out, after having successfully served D/FW for almost 7 years, and the airport’s California operator is moving in, under the pretext
that there is too much congestion.
The imposed change in operating procedures is significant. Without access to the One Hour parking area FreedomPark must meet its customers at the curbside baggage check-in on departure, and in the passenger pickup zones on arrival. FreedomPark often has as many as 20 customers departing or
arriving on the same flight. The other off-airport, private enterprise valet company at the airport also will have to use those zones as well. The curbside baggage zones are already congested with travelers being dropped
off by family, friends, shuttles, taxis and busses. The arrival passenger pickup zones on the upper level have room for a limited number of cars, as few as 6 in some sections.
The resulting congestion at the curb will be monumental compared to the minimal congestion now observed in the One Hour parking areas. We communicated this to the airport staff, but they ignored our concerns.
The other major problem this imposed change presents is economic, and the financial consequences could eventually eliminate all choices but the airport’s California-based valet company. Here’s why.
At FreedomPark, we have developed our methods to be as efficient as possible while still providing you prompt, reliable service. The One Hour parking area affords us the opportunity to use a limited number of curbside valet attendants to serve multiple customers because the one hour parking slots
can be used for staging. On the other hand, cars dropped off or picked-up at the immediate curb must have one valet for each vehicle because of the restriction against unattended vehicles. This change in meeting location will raise FreedomPark’s valet labor costs by an estimated 35%. Since our operating margin is not robust (5% in our best year), this increase in cost cannot be absorbed if we are to remain in business.
This change represents a real and imminent threat to our company’s survival and to your choice of valet service providers. If FreedomPark must raise its rates to cover the added cost, we will be at a serious competitive disadvantage with the airport’s California-based service provider from a cost standpoint, as well as from a service standpoint. Anyone in business knows that if your rates are higher, and your service poorer, you won’t be in business for long.
Fundamentally there is a more serious issue at stake here.
D/FW Airport attempted valet parking twice before in its history. Both times the service was suspended within a year. FreedomPark was the first provider to successfully, and continuously offer valet parking at D/FW to travelers who otherwise find the airport’s parking burdensome and inconvenient. Before we launched FreedomPark in 2001 we inquired of, and the airport confirmed, that no operating permits were required for us to provide the services we proposed.
FreedomPark struggled to survive the economy of 2001, the disastrous impact of 9/11, and the challenge of creating a market for a service that had failed twice at D/FW. We did this by developing a unique and creative method of delivering the service, by over-the-top customer service, and by gut
In 2006 D/FW Airport decided that what FreedomPark had been doing successfully for so many years without regulations or permits, needed to be regulated, permitted and taxed. They also decided that, now having the successful model established by FreedomPark to follow, they themselves should attempt the valet parking business for a third time.
So on January 1, 2007 D/FW began to regulate and tax FreedomPark’s services. As a result, FreedomPark’s customers now pay an additional $55,000 per month for the privilege of using FreedomPark, and that goes directly to D/FW Airport. Now the airport staff wants to restrict the convenience FreedomPark has provided successfully for 7 years in order to compete against FreedomPark with its own version of the service.
In my view there is something fundamentally un-American about a government entity having the right to tax and regulate private industry, and then to be allowed to compete against the operators in that industry without the same regulations and taxes. That is exactly what D/FW Airport is attempting to do.
Our entire American economy is predicated on a risk-reward system. Innovation is inspired by the opportunity to benefit from that innovation. If a government entity is allowed to swoop in and usurp a market after private industry has built up that market, then where is the incentive to innovate. Why take the risks? This is not Venezuela!
The basic principle upon which the D/FW Airport Board was chartered was the pledge to serve the air travel needs of the citizens of North Texas. The charter does not require that the airport be operationally involved in every aspect of providing air travel. D/FW does not fly airplanes or operate cab services, and they don’t need to provide valet parking to be a good airport. Especially when there is a provider like FreedomPark that has been doing a good job for 7 years. Nor does the airport need the additional revenue from operating its own valet service. D/FW had an operating surplus last year, and they now receive an additional 8% from every off-site parking operation, valet and shuttle.
We believe that the proposed change to the off-airport valet parking permit violates the D/FW Airport Board charter, as does the Airport’s plan to enter into competition with the companies that it taxes and regulates.
You, as a FreedomPark customer and a D/FW patron, are the only one that will be able to prevent this change from being implemented. You are one of 12,000 active FreedomPark customers whose interest is at stake.
I am asking that you email, write letters and make phone calls to the D/FW Airport Board, the CEO of the Airport Administration, the CEO of American Airlines, and to the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth. You may also want to contact the business reporters at the local media. Feel free to re-iterate my thoughts expressed here, or express your own. In your correspondence you might mention the name of the administrator who has imposed this unilateral restriction on FreedomPark, who has sought to set up the airport’s own valet service, and who has imposed the 8% fee that you now must pay. That administrator is Dean Ahmad.
I have provided below the email addresses and postal addresses of the individuals you might want to contact. I have also included phone numbers where I have them.
The D/FW Board meets Thursday, December 6, for the last time before these changes go into effect. If you wish to send hard-copy correspondence to them via FedEx, I will pick up the tab. Just send me the bill.
I am deeply concerned for the 250 people who make their living here at FreedomPark and who serve you with enthusiasm. I am also concerned for your convenience and choices as a D/FW traveler. And I am concerned for free enterprise in North Texas. Call me on my cell phone if you have any questions.