CHENNAI: The Chennai airport administration has called for a partial roll-back of the ‘exit-within-5-minutes-or-pay-up’ rule that was introduced along with the new parking system at the airport on April 1. This relaxation of the entry-exit time to 10 minutes, especially during peak hours, has come after the AAI was flooded with complaints and requests for change. After the six computerised parking check-in bays were introduced, all vehicles had to pick up a barcoded ticket at entry. If people actually managed to drop off a son or daughter leaving for the States, find a trolley, offload his luggage, say a hurried goodbye, start the car again and reach the exit parking bay within five minutes, then they didn’t have to pay.
If they’d taken even a second more, then they had to cough up `60 – which is the parking fee for an entire hour. Earlier, only people who wished to park had to pay while those who were just driving through were not charged.
“It’s absolutely impossible,” complains Antony Sabarathinam, an ex-serviceman who went to see a nephew off to Singapore two weeks ago, “I’m not particularly close to the boy, so all I did was drop him off and follow the line of cars to the exit.
I even hurried a bit because of the number of signs they had put up about the `60 payment.” Apparently, not only did he wait in line for over five minutes but the woman parking attendant refused to listen to reason and insisted he pay up. “I would have argued more but the honking from vehicles piling up behind and people yelling was too much,” he fumes. Next time he’d rather drop them outside and leave rather than encourage this “highway robbery”, he says.
Varsha, who came to drop her sister off, was not amused when she was stuck with an hour’s parking bill for an 11-minute exit and was then told she couldn’t go back in and park for the remainder of the hour as it wasn’t part of the rules. It made her hopping mad. “I gave the poor girl behind the counter a really hard time,” she recalls.
The parking staff themselves are a harried lot, having to bear the brunt of this rather impractical rule. If it’s not facing some passenger’s ire, then it’s the unpleasant task of making a judgement call about when it is rush hour they are faced with.
“We have asked the company that handles the parking contract (Garuda Aviation) to allow vehicles to exit without paying, even up to 10 minutes after they enter, during rush hour. Sometimes if there is too much of a vehicle build-up we allow them to leave even after a longer time without paying,” explains airport director E P Hareendranathan.
They are studying the time taken for a vehicle to enter and exit at various times, to arrive at a more “realistic” time frame, he adds. “Even call taxis finish their fare calculation outside to save time, so there are no cars hanging around,” he says.
This has definitely eased the congestion and made the flow smoother, and the change is visible. Airport Police are the only ones who are pleased as they were used to trawling the arrival and departure lanes, screaming at people to leave with the tow truck as an ever present threat. “These days, people just come in and rush out or park in the extra large spaces. No problems for us,” says a police official breezily.