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Airport operators use information on customer utilization, needs, preferences, and satisfac- tion to evaluate the performance of their parking program in relation to their goals and objec- tives, to understand how the program is performing and why, and to implement or fine-tune their parking strategies accordingly. The different types of data used by airport operators to eval- uate their parking operations are described in this chapter, as are ways to collect and analyze the data using focus groups, stakeholder groups, customer surveys, and airport staff experience. Data Collection and Analysis Data captured on a routine basis, as well as supplemental data collection on an as-needed basis, can be used to analyze patterns, trends, and changes in the behavior of parking customers. These analyses can provide information on patterns of use, but they do not explain the reasons for customer preferences. Examples of statistics that may be useful for analyzing airport-operated parking operations include the following: 1. Parking transactions compared to airline flight schedules, 2. Customer durations in parking facilities, 3. Occupancies by facility or product, 4. Counts of customers on the airport parking shuttle, 5. Counts of facility entering and exiting volumes, 6. Customer place of residence and distance traveled (obtained from license plates in certain states), 7. Average revenue per transaction by facility or product, and 8. Distribution of customers by payment method and by parking facility or product. It is helpful to analyze these data at different times of the year to understand seasonal and daily variations in parking activity, including demand during peak and off-peak periods. Comparisons can be made with passenger use of other access modes (or trends in this use) obtained from sur- vey counts of taxicab dispatches, private vehicle traffic, customers on privately operated off-airport parking courtesy vans, or informal surveys of the use of off-airport parking facilities. For some analyses, additional data are helpful to develop meaningful comparisons among similar customer groups, such as data gathered from surveys of O&D airline passengers. Focus Groups Focus groups are useful for obtaining opinions and perceptions of customers or potential cus- tomers regarding a product or a service. Focus groupsâespecially those conducted on airport parking products and access modesâare typically conducted by a moderator, last for 90 to 10 C H A P T E R 3 Assessing Customer Needs and Preferences
120 minutes, and have 8 to 12 participants. Focus groups are held to analyze or address a spe- cific topic or purpose. Typically, more than one focus group is conducted to address a topic, with participants recruited because they have similar characteristics. For example, to evaluate strate- gies that could increase an airport operatorâs share of the public parking market, a series of focus groups might be organized to include (1) local residents who travel for business purposes and who park on-airport, (2) local resident business travelers who park in privately operated off- airport parking facilities, and (3) local resident business travelers who use taxicabs and limou- sines to access the airport. Within these categories, there might be a range of users stratified by income level, frequency of travel, and other characteristics, or a further segmentation. Focus groups are a forum for asking open-ended questions, which allow the moderator to ask follow-on questions to participant responses. Unlike customer surveys using structured survey instruments, which aim to collect answers from a representative sample of customers and are meant to be unbiased, focus groups are biased. The intent is to understand the likes and dislikes of customers and their underlying perceptions, why they behave the way they do, and what strategies might change their behavior. Results from focus groups are obtained quickly in com- parison to customer surveys, in which data input, quality control, manipulation, and analysis must be performed to understand the results. Focus groups can be used to gather opinions from small groups of customers about existing airport parking products, their likes and dislikes related to competing privately operated parking facilities, or alternatives to airport parking (e.g., curbside pickup/drop-off, use of taxicabs and other access modes). Focus groups also provide a means to test customer reactions to potential parking products and services, and to solicit original ideas from participants. Focus groups can also be used to develop formal survey questions for a larger population of customers. Focus groups are used to help develop or refine products and services in many industries. For example, focus groups are used in the advertising industry to test new advertisements before the sponsor makes a large investment in a television advertising campaign. Stakeholder Groups Stakeholder groups are used to obtain feedback, monitor customer satisfaction, and test ideas on a regular basis. A stakeholder group may consist of a diverse range of customers from several interest groups (e.g., the business community, neighborhood groups, and the general popula- tion), or there may be several special-interest stakeholder groups (e.g., a group of representatives from large employers, chambers of commerce, hotel and convention bureaus, trade organizations, small business associations, travel agents, or other organizations). Unlike focus groups, stake- holder groups have an ongoing interest in the outcome of their participation, and members of stakeholder groups have an agenda. Stakeholder groups may also be formed for a specific purpose and have a defined duration. Customer Surveys Several types of customer surveys can be administered to assess customer preferences, needs, and trends or patterns, as follows: â¢ Customer satisfaction surveys. Airport operators may use customer satisfaction surveys to measure customer satisfaction with products or services and to monitor and improve cus- tomer service. To evaluate a parking program, customer satisfaction surveys would request customers to rate elements of the parking program, such as payment methods, experience with exit/entry delays, specific parking products, cleanliness or safety of facilities, frequency of shut- tle bus service, courtesy of shuttle bus drivers, availability of spaces, ease of finding spaces, Assessing Customer Needs and Preferences 11
walking distances, and parking rates. Some basic information on customer demographics may also be collected. Open-ended questions may be included, but it should be recognized that respondents may choose not to answer, or may provide vague answers. To encourage com- pletion of these surveys, some airport operators have found it helpful to offer incentives to those completing surveys (e.g., parking discount coupons). Information could be obtained by distributing mail-back surveys to customers entering or exiting parking facilities, but it should be recognized that such surveys have very low response rates (i.e., less than 10%). Drop-off boxes for the surveys can also be provided in the parking facility. An alternative survey method is to distribute a card inviting customer participation in an online survey. A broader airport customer satisfaction survey (e.g., an intercept survey) could be admin- istered in the terminals to determine customer satisfaction regarding a range of products and services. Such surveys can include questions that require those surveyed, and who have used the airportâs parking facilities on their current trip or in the past, to rate or compare parking products or services and their satisfaction with those products or services. Such in-terminal surveys can be administered on the spot by interviewers, by using mail-back cards, or by inviting customers to participate in online surveys at their leisure. Customer satisfaction surveys may be administered periodically, or before and after the introduction of a new parking facility or changes to a parking program. This type of survey could ask respondents for contact information to follow up in the future. Such follow-up sur- veys provide one method for developing a database of potential candidates for focus groups. â¢ Revealed preference surveys. Revealed preference surveys are administered to a representative sample of airport customers to establish patterns of facility use by asking airport passengers questions regarding their current or previous trips to or from the airport. The most compre- hensive form of revealed preference surveys for airport planning purposes is the O&D survey, which is typically administered to enplaning passengers to collect information on mode of access to the airport for the current flight, trip purpose, length of stay, trip origin, location of residence, travel party size, number of checked and carry-on bags, number of flights taken over a 12-month period, airport arrival time in relation to flight departure time, and other questions dependent on the purpose for the survey. If airline passengers are sampled by flight, the data- base can be supplemented with information on flight destination and departure time. This type of survey puts parking use in the context of the bigger picture of all airport ground access modes by allowing the airport operator to understand the percentage of parkers in relation to all ground access users, and to develop profiles of customers using parking facilities operated by the airport operator, as well as profiles of potential customers currently using privately oper- ated parking facilities and other ground access modes. This type of information can also be used to support regional transportation planning and travel demand modeling. The O&D survey is an important tool used for airport ground access planning, terminal planning, operations planning, and as an input for marketing and advertising programs. This type of survey may be administered in the context of a master plan, or it may be administered periodically (every 2 to 5 years) to monitor airline passenger behavior over time. Surveys may be administered at a âtypicalâ travel time when the airport is not experiencing heavy vacation or business travel, or at a peak time, or both, depending on the airport operatorâs intended use of the survey data. Periodic surveys should be administered at similar times of the year to allow for comparison. Because of the cost to conduct valid surveys of parking customers, few air- port operators regularly conduct revealed preference surveys solely for the purpose of analyz- ing parking products, but rather include one or two questions about parking in larger, more comprehensive passenger surveys. License plate surveys are an alternative to O&D surveys and also provide useful informa- tion for marketing and advertising programs. Since the license plate of every parked vehicle is recorded at most airports as part of nightly license plate inventories, it is possible to use license 12 Guidebook for Evaluating Airport Parking Strategies and Supporting Technologies
plate numbers to determine the vehicle ownerâs place of residence and the market area from which the airport is attracting customersâparticularly at airports that attract passengers from multiple states. â¢ Stated preference surveys. Stated preference surveys are a method of data collection used to determine how customers might behave in the future under varying conditions. The survey recipient is provided with tradeoffs from which to choose related to one or more topics of interest, which, when analyzed together with demographic information, allow the develop- ment of predictive tools for the variables surveyed. Stated preference surveys could be applied to the airport parking program, for example, to analyze the potential impacts of changes to public parking fees. Stated preference surveys could be used to determine parking price sen- sitivity by various passenger groups, to estimate the change in the number of parking cus- tomers and revenue that would be gained or lost at various parking rates, and the modes to or from which passengers would divert. Stated preference surveys may be administered at the air- port by intercepting customers or by distributing invitation cards to customers to participate in an online survey. Stated preference surveys are valuable for predicting customer respon- siveness to changes in products or services or the development of new products being consid- ered, particularly when potential demand or financial impacts may be significant. This type of survey should be conducted on an as-needed basis. Designing and conducting such surveys require specialized skills and experience. Experience Airport operations staff, customer service staff, and public relations staff often have an inher- ent understanding of customer needs and preferences because of their day-to-day involvement with the parking program and contact with customers. Based on operational issues and their experience with the public, these staff members often are able to identify when the peak periods of demand occur for various customer groups (e.g., business and non-business travelers) and the products preferred by particular customer groups. Staff members answering questions, responding to customer complaints, and reviewing customer satisfaction cards can offer valu- able insight on certain topics. This insight may be useful in relation to product improvement or development, as input to data collection methodologies, or in validating data analysis results. Assessing Customer Needs and Preferences 13