Industry leader Scott Solombrino calls the measure ‘crazy’ and a ‘crisis’ for luxury transportation operators.
Bill Whitley thought his problems had been solved at Indianapolis International Airport. Whitley, vice president of operations at Indy Connection in Indianapolis, IN, and vice president of the Indiana Association of Limousine Owners, was just one operator concerned about airport access fees. The airport was charging a $5 fee for every trip. The problem was that many companies in the area offered share-ride services. Operators worked with airport authorities to create a new system where share-ride vehicles would be charged $1 per run and luxury limousine service $5 per run.
The solution to one problem resulted in the creation of another. The new system required different stickers to be placed on the vehicles being used for the different services. “What happened is that we can’t use our cars for crossover work. If we have a lot of share-ride runs one day we can’t just use one of the limousines usually used for luxury service. It makes our fleet less efficient.” Whitley explains.
Airport business often translates into steady income. Unfortunately, as air travel has decreased recently, the competition for those still traveling has become increasingly fierce. Once obtaining this lucrative business, operators face the often frustrating task of dealing with the airport authority.
Increasing airport usage fees, curb access restrictions, and dealing with enforcement personnel continue to be the major airport-related problems plaguing operators across the nation, according to a mini-survey conducted by Limousine & Chauffeur of state livery association presidents. Working through associations, limousine operators have been able to solve many of their airport dilemmas. Below is a sampling of some of the common problems operators face.
Increasing Access Fees
With air travel on the decline, often airports have to resort to new avenues of revenue. Many times ground transportation companies bear the largest portion of this in the form of increasing access fees. Airports typically charge a per pick-up fee, a monthly/yearly access fee, or both.
Thomas Lawler, president of the Limousine Association of Houston, reports that the Houston Intercontinental Airport charges $50 per year per car for the right to pick up at the airport and an additional $4 for each pick-up.
Often when airports are considering instituting a fee structure, they seek comment from those companies that will be affected — taxis, car rental shuttle buses, hotel courtesy buses, and limousines. For instance, authorities at Albany County Airport recently sent a letter to ground transportation companies explaining the creation of a new loading and unloading zone plan that would include a $1 per half hour charge for commercial and for-hire vehicles. The letter also included an invitation to discuss issue at a public forum.
These are the opportunities operators can use to express their views to those in charge of instituting the access fees. While it is doubtful the instituting of such a fee could be avoided, with operators working together with the airport authority, it is possible to reach a compromise that will work for both parties.
Ray Mundy executive director of the Airport Ground Transportation Association, sees a trend toward airports charging fees to not only commercial vehicles, but courtesy carriers as well. “There have been recent court cases in states such as Florida and Louisiana where airports have been sued by off-airport car rental agencies. In these cases, the rental agencies claimed they were being discriminated against because they were being charged access fees. The judges for these cases said an airport wouldn’t be discriminating if it charged an access fee to all commercial vehicles picking up passengers,” he says.
With increasing curb-side congestion, many airports are looking at ways of streamlining their operations. New systems are being instituted, like Chicago’s call-down system, that are expensive to finance. “Operators can expect to pay fees at airports. These fees are normally supposed to be earmarked for improving facilities and services, but I haven’t noticed this happening,” Mundy adds.
Curb Access Problematic
Operators are still having-problems getting curb access to load and unload passengers. Florida Limousine Association president Lawrence Nelson explains the problems operators experience at Southern Florida area airports. “Our main problem is not being able to park curbside. We must either park in a distant lot or cruise the terminal,” he says.
One way area operators have found to deal with the limited access is to park in the short-term lot, go inside to meet the passenger, retrieve the vehicle, then drive back to the terminal to pick up the passenger. Not only is this solution time consuming, it is also expensive:
Operators working at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are having access problems of a different sort. Traffic is so heavy at the airport, operators often can’t get to the curb to retrieve their passengers because shuttle vans are monopolizing the space.
In a letter to Arthur Grier, president of the Association of Limousine Owners of Maryland, an official for Baltimore/Washington International Airport explains how pick-ups are to be handled. “The limousine driver cannot stop or stand at the curb waiting for a passenger. In other words, the passenger should be advised where to wait at the curb so that he/she is ready to be loaded when the driver pulls up.”
Mundy has seen a trend towards airports adopting a two-tiered access system. One tier would allow operators to only pick-up, the other to pick-up and park. “Many airports are recognizing the importance of giving passengers VIP service. These airports generally institute the two-tiered system,” he says.
Operators working at Los Angeles International Airport have to deal with one of the largest police forces in Los Angeles County — over 200 officers are dedicated to the airport. “Even though we have such a large police force, only a small segment of it is dedicated to ground transportation,” says Judy Bindrup, transportation services coordinator for landside operations at LAX. “The majority of the enforcement personnel know the general laws regarding ground transportation, but they aren’t aware of many of the specifics. We are working with the police chief to obtain extra training for these operators.”
According to Lawler, “By working with the Department of Aviation we have solved most of our problems. Houston has always had one of the best set-ups for limousines at its airports, now it’s better. In addition, the enforcement of non-permitted cars has increased due to the additional fees.”
Illegally soliciting operators have long plagued the three New York City-area airports. Recently, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has begun a crackdown effort to rid the airports of these undesirables. According to an article in the Garden State Press, “Police at Newark International Airport have already arrested 40 people, issued 100 summonses and towed 104 vehicles during the $1.5 million special enforcement campaign.”
Mundy has witnessed many larger airports, such as Chicago’s O’Hare, using a call-down system from a remote parking lot. In this arrangement, operators are corralled in a holding lot until their passenger arrives, then the chauffeur is called down and allowed to pick up at the curb. Although the system adds cost and time, it eliminates illegal solicitation, he claims.
Airports with remote parking may alleviate solicitation problems, but increase the cost and time involved in a pick-up. “Airports make most of their revenues — 80% to 90% — from parking and car rental fees. Even though this money should be going to making improvements in the ground transportation situation, often airport officials don’t want to get passengers into high occupancy vehicles that could cut into the parking revenues,” declares Mundy.
|Airport Access Fees Vary Across Country|
|Anchorage International Airport||$25 Permit per vehicle per year|
|Broward County, FL Aviation Dept.||$0.75 per passenger per trip|
|Cincinnati||$50 per vehicle per month|
|Greater Orlando Aviation Authority||$3 per half hour timed trip fee|
|Los Angeles International Airport||$1.50 per trip|
|Logan International Airport, MA||5% of gross|
|Philadelphia International Airport|
|Trip Fees:||$1 for 1-5 passengers|
|$3 for 6-12 passengers|
|$8 for 13-24 passengers|
|$22 for over 25 passengers|
Above is a sampling of airport access fees around the country. “These fees are normally supposed to be earmarked for improving facilities and services, but I haven’t noticed this happening,” says Ray Mundy, executive director of the Airport Ground Transportation Association (AGTA). The access fee information was provided by AGTA.
“Problems arise when there is soliciting going on at the airports,” he adds. “In the smaller airports there isn’t much solicitation going on. Most of the enforcement personnel know the chauffeurs and let them park at the curb and even go to the gate to meet their passengers.”
Solving the Problems
Many operators have found that the best way to resolve their problems is through meetings with the airport authorities.
“The problems we have had with Phoenix Sky International Airport have been worked out through communication between contractors and aviation/ground transportation meetings,” according to Doug Lahood of the Arizona Association of Limousine Operators. In Phoenix, operators have inked contracts with the airport to have exclusive airport access.
One solution airports are beginning to implement to ensure operators are charged properly for their access is the Automatic Vehicle Identification System (AVI). AVI uses a small transponder placed on the rear view mirror or other inconspicuous area that automatically registers when the vehicle enters the pickup area. Illegal operators can be immediately identified and apprehended. “This system creates a more level-playing field as opposed to a yearly permit. Operators are charged for the time they actually spend at the airport,” explains Mundy.
“Over the past decade, landside has become much more involved when it comes to updating airports,” Mundy adds. Bindrup agrees. “We try to keep communication open. We are always happy to meet with operators to discuss any problems they might be experiencing. If operators are experiencing any difficulties, I’d like to hear about them.
“Whenever we set up a new program, we hold public hearings to hear all sides of the issue. Programs have been modified because of these hearings. We don’t want to set up a system that doesn’t work,” says Bindrup.
Congress recently passed a law allowing airports to charge a passenger facility charge of between $1 and $3 to all travelers using the airport. This money goes directly to updating the airport facilities. “Because of this law, almost all major airports are upgrading,” says Mundy. “The problem is that the airports are making most of their improvements airside and not as much on the ground transportation side.
“More airports are being remodeled than are being built new. Once the airport is built, it is often difficult to correct problem areas simply by remodeling,” adds Mundy
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