PURCHASE, N.Y. — A state college near an airport in the New York City suburbs is using a big parking lot and an idea from a business class to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships and other programs.
Purchase College runs a 24-hour valet parking and shuttle service for travellers headed to the Westchester County Airport, where finding a parking spot can be a pricey problem.
“Parking at the airport is so congested, so uncertain, so expensive,” said Thomas White of Larchmont, a retired lawyer who used the college program for his flight to Orlando on Wednesday. “Here you get unbelievable service and it’s a lot cheaper. And of course it’s for a good cause.”
The service, called “Purchase Park 2 Fly,” charges $10 a day for reservations made online. The airport charges $28.80 for 24 hours.
Mostly by word of mouth, business has climbed to 12,600 cars so far this year, with the big holiday travel season still to come, said Patrick Savolskis, executive director of the Purchase College Association, which runs on-campus services like dining and parking. Last Thanksgiving, 584 vehicles came in, said Joe Smeraglino, who supervises the operation.
Savolskis said the airport parking service clears about $80,000 each year for the college, which is part of the State University of New York. The money goes to “student scholarships, capital improvements and institutional grants,” according to signs on the shuttle buses, which are painted with airplanes and mortarboards.
Referring to the school’s 4,000 students, the signs say, “Your travel supports their journey.”
Carol Delaney of Bedford Hills, who was making a business trip to Jacksonville, Florida, said she’s delighted to be helping the college kids but uses the service because it’s “excellent, the best thing available.”
“I use it whenever I use this airport, maybe 10 times a year,” she said. “You just can’t beat the service.”
She said on Memorial Day weekend, her flight home from Washington was cancelled and she and two others from the New York area rented a car. She reached the Westchester airport at 2:55 a.m., called Park 2 Fly and was picked up in 10 minutes, she said.
“You wouldn’t find that anywhere else,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, the typical customer spent four minutes handing over his or her car, 15 seconds walking to the shuttle bus and about eight minutes on the back roads to the airport. There was almost no wait time and the bus often carried just one passenger.
There are 20 employees including a few students, said manager Jorry Dorelian.
The clientele is a mix of business and pleasure travellers, said Smeraglino, including families heading for the Orlando theme parks, “usually in August, right before school starts.”
Sister Judy Brownell, one of two nuns from Montrose who were flying to San Antonio for a conference, said Park 2 Fly is “very convenient. It eliminates the need to have people drive you and pick you up at odd hours.”
“I felt even better about it when I heard about the scholarships,” she said.
The college got into the park-and-fly business a few years ago when it brought its parking services under the umbrella of the association. A professor, Bill Guerrero, asked his class to work on a business plan using the 1,000 or so parking spots that were vacant every day.
The county-owned airport was getting busier, but expansion was constrained by neighbours’ noise concerns and a nearby reservoir.
Park 2 Fly has a “professional” relationship with the county, said Westchester spokesman Phil Oliva. He said the county works with Purchase and the airport parking garage “to make sure that ample, safe and affordable parking is available for all residents and all travellers who use the county airport.”
Besides the airport garage, there’s competition from the Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook, which allows the public to park and use the hotel shuttle for about $5 a day. There’s no valet parking, however, and no service between 10:45 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.
As for the future, Purchase Park 2 Fly has room to expand and has begun offering valet parking for gala events at the on-campus Performing Arts Center. It also offers charging stations for cars with electric batteries.