By Jennifer Mucha

Toronto Pearson is Canada’s largest airport, and the ninth-busiest airport in North America, moving nearly 50 million annual passengers from security checkpoint to gate to more than 170 destinations around the world. The airport has a mandate to put passengers at the heart of every decision, and as a result was recently recognized by the Airports Council International as the Airport Service Quality best large airport in North America. Believing that the passenger experience starts long before take-off, Toronto Pearson is using technology and analytics to build a diverse and creative transportation offering that ensures travellers have an end-to-end experience tailored to their individual needs, while keeping future aviation demand in its sights.

Toronto Pearson has come a long way from its origins in a farmer’s field in the village of Malton in 1939. The airport grounds now stretch from Mississauga in the west to the city of Toronto in the east and south, and to Brampton in the north. At the heart of three municipalities and close to the 400-series highways, it goes without saying that Toronto Pearson sees high vehicle traffic from passengers, meeters, greeters and employees.

Integrating Parking and Transportation

With nearly 50 million annual passengers, as well as an airport employee community of almost 50,000 workers, efficient transportation into and out of the airport is critical to the success of the operation. An intricate network of municipal transit providers, ground transportation operators and the airport’s own Parking and Ground Transportation business unit work together with a common goal: to ensure that transportation at the airport is integrated, provides a diverse and appropriate range of services and contributes to the airport’s passengers-first mandate.

Achieving that goal is no small feat. Toronto Pearson’s three covered garages and two outdoor lots represent Canada’s single largest parking operation, with over 24,000 commercial parking spaces. Over 3.3 million airport passengers parked at Toronto Pearson in 2017, another nearly 5 million accessed the airport by ground transportation, including shuttles, taxis and other services. In addition, airport employees generated over 2.5 million parking exits during the year. With users visiting the airport for a variety of reasons – employees heading to work at one of the 400 companies who operate at the airport, passengers departing or arriving from flights, family and friends coming to pick up passengers – ensuring a breadth of services allows passengers, employees and other airport users to tailor their experience to their own specific needs.

A Single Option is not the Solution

At Toronto Pearson, these high demands mean that options must cover a variety of needs.  Employees must be offered reasonably-priced parking options, while business travellers take advantage of curbside valet options. Travellers who want an economical option can choose a remote covered garage or outdoor lots serviced by a dedicated train that serves both airport terminals every three to seven minutes. Other parking products in the airport’s suite of offerings include two terminal-side covered garages, featuring express parking options, general-use daily parking space and premium reserved-only spots.

Reserved parking has been a key success area for the airport’s parking operation. Online reservations in both terminal garages and the remote Value facilities have been offered since 2015 and have grown significantly to now make up 20 per cent of the airport’s passenger parking business. “Our passengers told us that they wanted more control over their parking experience,” said Mark Regimbald, Director of Parking and Ground Transportation at Toronto Pearson. “Online reservations allow them to arrive at a set timeframe and drive directly to a preferred area of the garage. It saves them time circling a large garage and gives them the peace of mind that they’ll be guaranteed a space and will easily find a spot when they get to the airport.”

Reserved parking has also given the airport important business analytics that help them develop their business more strategically. Prior to the inception of the program, airport parkers were largely an anonymous group, at best providing information on entrances and exits to the garage with no understanding of user needs, travel patterns or product preference. “With the data provided by our online reservations system, we can start to understand our users, the services they need and ways we can improve to better serve them,” said Regimbald. “It’s been critical in improving our offering and developing new promotions and partnerships tailored to customer preference.” Online reservations also allow the airport to offer dynamic pricing – offering better parking value to users who choose to reserve far in advance or park at times of lower demand.

Partnering to Improve Passenger Experience

Partnerships are a new and growing opportunity for the airport – and the customer. Current partnerships allow parking users to enjoy discounted parking when travelling on behalf of companies registered with the corporate parking program and offer discounts to frequent users via a fast-growing email subscription service. In the coming months, Toronto Pearson will be partnering with in-terminal commercial services to create cross-sales and marketing opportunities that will enhance the passenger experience from end to end.

An especially popular promotion is a partnership that takes advantage of not one but two airport transportation options. The UP Express train that runs from Toronto Pearson to the downtown Union Station, is renowned for taking passengers up and above city traffic and delivering them the 25 kilometers from the airport to the city centre in only 25 minutes. Partnering with UP Express, riders travelling evenings and weekends can now purchase a “park and ride” option that allows a combined parking rate and family travel on the train rate for just $35, a significant savings. It’s been a hit with residents of the airport area who want to visit the city for sports or entertainment but want to avoid downtown traffic and parking.

Enhanced Services

With Toronto Pearson’s passenger traffic forecasts showing continued growth, the airport is constantly innovating to provide an enhanced transportation experience. Current improvements include parking guidance systems and space indicators in airport parking structures, and enhanced signage and wayfinding, to make navigating the structures more efficient. In the new year a mobile-responsive website will allow for a better reservations experience and easier online booking and will include real-time occupancy feeds to help passengers understand which garages have availability prior to arrival.

An enhanced enforcement and communications campaign is also improving the experience for customers approaching from area roads. The Toronto Pearson cell phone waiting area, while available to drivers picking up airport passengers for many years, was difficult to find, meaning drivers often idled dangerously on the airport’s approach roads. In a campaign to improve the user experience and protect the safety of all airport users, better signage was installed to direct users to the cell phone lots. In addition, using camera technology, a mobile enforcement program was put into place to educate and dissuade drivers from using the roads unsafely.

Anticipating the Future

Toronto Pearson is not just evolving for the future of parking. The airport recognizes that road congestion from vehicle traffic in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area is increasing and that a future of ongoing growth in the region will require an integrated mix of transportation options to meet demand. That’s why Toronto Pearson is working with local municipalities towards its vision of a regional transit and passenger centre, to be located on airport grounds. With initial design concepts underway and ongoing discussion with municipal and provincial governing bodies ongoing, the airport could see the opening of the first phase of the centre by the late 2020s.

The proposed transit centre has the potential to reduce travel times, ease connections for area commuters and make the trip to the airport even more seamless for passengers from around the world. It’s a bold vision that could change the way people travel in the airport area for generations to come.

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