Port Halts Fees for Chauffeured Transportation

Posted on October 20, 2004 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

GALVESTON, Texas — Island port officials say they’ll delay imposing fees on shuttle buses, limousines and taxis that deliver passengers to the cruise ship terminals and continue talks with those most affected by the tariffs.

Easing a strained situation, port staff and some members of the Galveston Hotel and Lodging Association board met Oct. 19 to discuss alternatives to the proposed tariffs, which are modeled after fees charged by other U.S. airports and seaports.

Island hotel owners and managers this week refrained from publicly criticizing the port’s plan and said Oct. 19th’s meeting went well.

Citing rising security costs, port officials last month had planned to begin charging a $250 initial license fee — with a yearly $50 renewal — to operators of commercial passenger vehicles, shuttle buses and other businesses who use port property to deliver cruise ship passengers to the port’s terminals near downtown.

Some businesses, including hotel owners, are balking at the fees, which also include a $10 a trip charge for shuttle buses and courtesy vans. Along with generating port revenue, the cruise industry is supposed to increase tourism and fill island hotel rooms. Some hotel owners have promoted their properties to tourists who arrive on the island a night before their cruise as a free place to park.

Meanwhile, the port wants to generate money from cruise parking at its own lots.

The fees weren’t meant to punish potential parking lot competitors, said Port Director Steve Cernak.

Under the proposal, approved by the port’s governing board earlier this year, taxi and limousine companies also would have to pay the initial $250 license fee. But instead of paying for each trip to the terminal, taxi companies would pay $7.50 once a year for each vehicle that uses port property. Taxis would be required to display decals. The fee is $10 a vehicle for limousines.

Cernak said increasing security costs are behind the proposed tariff. The tariff also allows the port to track businesses arriving on its property and to enforce insurance requirements, he said.

Because of federal requirements after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the port’s security costs have jumped from $1 million to $2 million in a two-year period, Cernak said.

Through federal programs, the port has been awarded more than $6 million to make security improvements. But those grants won’t be enough to cover all the security costs incurred by federal requirements, Cernak said.

The port is attempting to pay back millions of dollars in bonds issued to refurbish its cruise terminal. Private businesses should have to pay their fair share of the public investment, Cernak said.

Since major cruise lines began calling the island a homeport in September 2000, the port has never charged fees to deliver or pick up passengers at the cruise terminals.

But it has tried before. Last year, Texas Sen. Kyle Janek, who represents Galveston, pledged to be “punitive” if a fee on private shuttle buses servicing the cruise terminal wasn’t lifted.

Janek filed legislation that would have barred the city or wharves board from assessing any fees or tariffs for taxis, limousines or shuttles. The bill was prompted by complaints from Tom Flanagan, co-owner of a company with a parking lot on Harborside Drive that used shuttles to compete with port-operated lots. Janek never pursued the legislation, after both sides resolved the dispute.

The island is homeport to ships owned by Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International. Two cruise ships are here on Sunday and one cruise ship is here every other Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

With thousands of passengers either boarding or leaving ships on cruise days, hotel shuttle buses make as many as four trips a day to terminals.

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