Orange County Swap Meet officials this weekend are experimenting with a plan to alleviate traffic congestion around the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.
Instead of stopping at the street entrances to pay admission, drivers are waved into the parking lots and charged admission at the gates inside. Bob Teller, president of Tel Phil Enterprises, which operates the swap meet, said a consulting firm suggested the plan to help alleviate congestion.
But a larger problem than the backup from the admission gates, Costa Mesa Traffic Officer Vern Hupp said Saturday, is the lack of available parking. Lot entrances close quickly when their available parking fills up, and drivers cruise in a loop around the fairgrounds until they find an opening, Hupp said.
"That's really the biggest problem," Hupp said. "People who are trying to get into the swap meet, they usually make the circuit all the way around."
Teller admitted Saturday that there is insufficient parking for the swap meet, which has 1,500 vendors and 50,000 customers--up to 70,000 over the holidays. Rain aggravates the problem, as it did Saturday, by turning dirt lots into mud and further reducing available parking, he said. The company hopes to find more parking near the fairgrounds or try busing groups in, he said.
The new plan, which drops the $1-per-carload parking fee and substitutes a 50-cent-per-person admission, it will be used again today and then evaluated by swap meet officials and the consulting firm.
Any permanent change also would be reviewed by fair management officials and the fair board, Teller said. The weekend change remains a "test program," he said.
Reaction from swap meet customers Saturday was mixed. La Habra resident Catherine Parker, who shops at the fair regularly, said she was pleased with the new system.
"It wasn't backed up on the freeway like I've seen it," she said, referring to congestion along Newport Boulevard to the end of the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway.
But Mickey Futoran, 60, who arrived in a carload of four, wasn't pleased with the new admission price.
"They're actually doubling their income by doing this," Futoran said.
Still, the cost would be worthwhile if the money would be used for more and better parking lots, Futoran and others in his group agreed.
Teller stressed the change was not meant to increase profits but to improve traffic flow.
Another swap meet regular, Julee Clark of Brea, had a more tongue-in-cheek congestion solution.
"Only let the regulars in," she joked.