Raising £1 drop-off fee can't be ruled out - airport chief

A PLANNED £1 passenger drop-off charge at Scotland's busiest airport could be increased if it fails to cut such "kiss and fly" trips, its chief admitted yesterday.

Edinburgh Airport MD Gordon Dewar says if the amount of 'kiss and fly' trips are not cut, the charge could be reviewed. Picture: Neil Hanna

Edinburgh Airport managing director Gordon Dewar said government officials had advised that a 1 fee might not be high enough to change behaviour.

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The news came as a petition launched against the charge reached nearly 1,200 signatures.

Opponents of the charge, which has been highlighted by The Scotsman, include city council leaders, MSPs and passenger watchdogs. However, it is supported by Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and Ryanair, one of the airport's biggest airlines.

The airport expects the charge from October will reduce the number of cars using the drop-off zone beside the terminal by more than one third, from 1.6 million to about 1 million.

However, Mr Dewar said: "If it had no impact on the number of people who 'kiss and fly', you might want to review it.

"We do not anticipate any change to the charge for a considerable time, but the world changes, as we have seen with the volcanic ash disruption and the British Airways cabin crew strikes.

"Scottish Government officials have suggested you may need to charge more to change behaviour."

Mr Dewar, who is stepping down this month to become chief executive of Bahrain airport, also conceded it would not be for him to decide on future charge levels. He said: "You do not rule anything out. I'm leaving in three weeks and I will make no promises about what my successor plans to do."

The airport proposes to replace the current free drop-off zone with a larger, covered area on the ground floor of the adjacent multi-storey car park, for which drivers will be charged 1.

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The free drop-off area will be moved to the long-stay car park, near the Hilton hotel, which will be served by free shuttle buses to the terminal every five minutes. It also about ten minutes' walk from the terminal, about twice as far as the car rental centre.

Mr Dewar said not charging drivers for dropping off passengers so close to the terminal had been a "glaring omission", since they caused the most road pollution.

He said: "Those who are behaving the worst are not paying a penny", although he admitted the airport had "incentivised" this in the past by not levying a charge.

The managing director said charging was being introduced because of increasing congestion in the drop-off zone, with traffic queues building up at peak times. He added that it was not possible to install safe crossing points for passengers without making the tailbacks even worse.

Mr Dewar also said the area was being abused by vehicles double parking and by drivers picking up passengers, when they should be paying 2 to use a car park for that purpose.

Mr Dewar said: "Doing nothing is not an option. The drop-off zone is a bit of a mess and not a safe environment, with double parking and pedestrians stepping out into traffic, which is not acceptable. We have had feedback from passenger focus groups complaining about the congestion, which they say is horrible and stressful. The frequency of congestion is increasing all the time."

Mr Dewar said the charge would be used to fund the 4m cost of the two new drop-off areas, barriers and the associated road improvements required.

He said the only alternative would be to charge airlines, which he dismissed as "counter-productive" as it would be passed on to all their passengers, regardless of how they reached the airport, or the airlines would cut routes from the airport.

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Lothians Conservative MSP Gavin Brown, who launched the petition, predicted the charge would be increased sooner rather than later.

He said: "I have a real fear it will be used as a cash cow and not stay at 1 for terribly long.

"We are totally against any drop-off charge in principle and will continue to fight hard against it. The airport already has a history of increasing drop-off charges for taxis, which are now 2."