COLUMBIA - A proposed amendment to look into the possibility of adding parking fees at the Columbia Regional Airport was defeated by Columbia's City Council.
Fourth Ward Council Member Ian Thomas proposed the amendment that was voted on Tuesday evening. He had hoped the possible parking fee could help financing for the city's public transportation system, mainly the bus system, which is facing budget cuts.
"The public transportation system is really struggling financially. That's the situation that has really driven me to push this forward right now," he said.
Thomas proposed an Economic Elasticity Study, which would have determined how much a small parking fee would impact travelers' decisions to use Columbia Regional Airport versus driving to St. Louis Lambert International Airport or Kansas City International Airport. However, without the study, he said the parking fees will most likely not be implemented.
"We have people that use the airport on a regular basis. I don't think the council members, chamber of commerce or economic department would support it. One concern is that it will drive people away," he said.
This concern was proven true when Thomas proposed a second motion to move forward with a parking fee of five dollars a day once his study was defeated. The motion was seconded, but ultimately defeated by the rest of the city council members.
Joe Henderson is a Columbia resident who usually chooses to fly out of Columbia over other airports. For him, parking fees would not make a difference in whether to keep using the airport.
"I still believe that flying out of Columbia is the best value compared to those other two airports, even if there was a minimal parking fee that was assessed, it wouldn't change my mind," he said.
Damon Hodges delivers late luggage that arrives at the Columbia Regional Airport. He is in agreement that fees would not deter travelers, especially since Kansas City and St. Louis have much higher parking fees.
"When they're coming home, they know they have to get off the plane, get their car out of parking that they know they paid 20 dollars or more a day for, and then drive two hours to get home," he said.
Thomas wanted money from the fees to go toward the city's transportation system because he believes the current cuts are devastating.
"The City Manager has made recommendations. They are very drastic. They reduce the level of service, increase the para-transit fee and reduce the area these buses cover. With a parking fee of the airport, the city could raise half a million to a million dollars a year," he said.
Many meeting attendees voiced concern regarding transportation budget cuts. The overall message was that many people who are disabled or cannot afford a car will suffer.
Thomas said his next move is to work with transit riders, advocates and the advisory commission to come up with a strategy to avoid pain caused by budget cuts.
"We're kicking the can down the road. We're going to have to deal with transportation cuts six to nine months from now," he said. "I think we are making the wrong decision."