Back on the hot seat today is Keith Meurlin, who seems like a cooperative and pleasant fellow and who is also operations manager at Dulles International Airport.

You may recall a couple of weeks ago the letter from Linda Childs of Fairfax, who complained she couldn't figure out where to stop on the Dulles arrivals ramp to pick up her mother and aunt. Meurlin noted there are a few spots there for cars, but that the best way to pick up people is to park in the short-term lot and meet the arrivals at or inside the terminal. Doctor Gridlock recommended one hour free parking, and Meurlin said he would look into it.

One might have figured that would be that. But noooo. Not with 12 million people a year using that airport. A number of folks had more to say about Dulles.

It might help to keep in mind that there are three levels at Dulles. The bottom level exits to the parking lots; the middle level is for arrivals, taxis, commuter buses and shuttle buses to hotels and rental cars, and the top level is for departures and shuttle buses to and from satellite parking lots.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My daughter and I solved Linda L. Childs' Dulles Airport pick-up problem last year. The solution: Send the arriving passengers up to "Departures" (top level) at the far end of the platform -- not down to "Arrivals." The pick-up car makes the swing around the departures ramp. Once past the congestion of passengers unloading at the near end {the first opportunity}, the platform is nearly empty. A delightful bonus: One bypasses those beastly toll booths entirely!



You seem to have hit on something there, Ms. Arritt. Folks move off the departures ramp faster because they are not waiting for anyone, and if your party is not there yet, you go round again. Meurlin prefers that you use the correct ramp, but says officers won't object to your method.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When I travel, I always try to use Dulles, because it's closer to my home and I can't stand the hassle at National. I drive to Dulles, park in satellite parking and take the shuttle bus to the terminal. Going isn't any problem, because the shuttle takes you to the departure ramp and you walk right in to check your baggage. But when we return to Dulles, the baggage claim is on the bottom floor and the shuttle bus is on the top floor. It's not easy lugging bags up to the top floor. Why can't the shuttle buses stop on the ground floor for returning passengers? Also, have you ever been to an airport where you can't rent baggage carts? Right! Dulles is one. You can't get a baggage cart unless it's attached to the arm of a Red Cap.



1. Meurlin said the ground level ramp (which is next to the short-term parking) is out because the shuttle buses are too big to fit through the parking lot exit booths. Even if the buses could fit, he said "that would mean the bus has to do a full loop and come down to the {lower} level which means a bunch of time riding around empty when {the bus} could be all the way out to the {satellite} lot again." The middle ramp, for arrivals, was ruled out for shuttle buses because it is already so congested. Meurlin notes that there are two escalators up from the baggage area to the departures ramp that baggage-laden passengers can use. "They can . . . board the shuttle bus at the exact spot where they were dropped off," he said.

2. "We're presently talking with a couple of firms" about installing coin-operated baggage carts, and should have them available this year, Meurlin said.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have empathy for Linda Childs' problem of picking up passengers from Dulles Airport. I found Keith Meurlin's explanation inadequate in two areas.

1. He concedes that buses and taxis double park and stop in areas reserved for passenger pick-up, "because far more people are served" by those vehicles. Some of those vehicles are parked in these seven spaces for hours. I think that many more people could be served in the three hours that a cab parks in this space. I have seen a bus park in this zone (using three spaces) for over an hour.

2. Mr. Meurlin's plan to use the short-term parking is absurd. Even on quiet days the short-term parking lot is usually full. God help you when it's between 4 and 10 p.m. In lieu of keeping an adequate pick-up area available, the short-term parking lot should be made at least four to six times larger.



1. Meurlin said this week that although mass transit vehicles, including taxis, serve more people, generally they should stick to the places marked for those vehicles. He said what you describe is not acceptable. However, he said, there are not enough police to enforce this around the clock. Police are assigned to the arrivals ramp during peak hours, and roam between the ramps at other times. More officers have been hired and are being trained now, and Meurlin said they should be on duty, and addressing your concern, a little later this year.

2. Meurlin said there usually is parking available in the short-term lot near the exit booths. The spaces at the western end of the rectangular lot, near the entrance, are the first to fill up, and folks may see that and give up before searching the far end of the lot.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was at all three airports over the Christmas holidays a total of eight times, and although one trip was complicated by a plane being an hour late, the rest of the times were breezes.

I think that the airports handle the huge volume of traffic they do with the small number of foul-ups, is fairly amazing. Of course only the foul-ups engender letters.

Incidentally, I'm wondering at the callousness of Linda L. Childs. She has her mother and aunt call her after they arrive so they can be waiting on the ramp for her majesty?!! I always meet my friends and siblings at the gate and help them with their luggage personally.


Takoma Park

Meeting folks inside the airport is a nice touch. But that might be difficult if the driver has small children along, or is late for another appointment.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

More signs, large enough to be clearly visible, are needed throughout the airport. When I went outside the terminal, I had a hard time finding where to wait for the shuttle to the parking lot. It was dark, and I saw a tiny sign for the Red lot, and finally walked the entire length of the building to find the place, where here was another tiny sign, and I couldn't even see the blue on it in the darkness.



"Our main concern is that we have so many signs they get washed out with each other," Meurlin said. "That may be part of the problem people are having." He said an architect is planning more simple signing, perhaps this year. The shuttle bus loading areas at either end of the departures ramp are marked with standard size signs and those are the only areas on that ramp where the pavement is marked with diagonal stripes, he said.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

This is a follow-up to your article about picking up arrivals at Dulles Airport. I used to do it the way Dulles officials advised you, and it worked very well. However, there have been some changes that I cannot fathom.

I park my car in short-term parking, then go inside to meet my arrivals. Then we proceed with their baggage to the lower exit. I then leave them there and go to get my car. Up until now everything has worked out very well. But now the fun begins. Concrete blocks have been placed at the points where the various cross roads of the parking lot intersect with the road that runs in front of the airport entrances and exits, so that a car cannot make an entrance from the lot to the road. I have been told that one has to drive to the entrance to short-term parking to enter the road but there is a red "do not enter" sign there. There must be some secret way to get back to the road but I have yet to find it.



Meurlin says that the short-term lot is a lot within a lot, and that what you do is exit the short-term lot (through a gate with an arm) and that puts you in the main parking lot. Then, before exiting through the toll booths, start circling around the main parking lot (keep heading to the left) on what he says are clearly marked, one-way roads, back toward the lower level terminal doors. Good luck.

As for providing one hour of free parking in the short term lot (versus 20 minutes now), Meurlin said he has presented the idea and "no one leaped at it." Parking revenue is a major income producer, he said.