Airport car-rental fees raised to pay for center
By Wayne Tompkins
Customers renting cars at Miami International Airport will be paying more to offset rising construction costs for a $370 million car-rental facility.
Miami-Dade commissioners last week raised the $3.25-per-day customer-facility charge to $4 during the construction period beginning in October and to no more than $4.60 once the facility is operational in 2011. The fee would increase by 25 cents every five years after the facility opens.
The airport charges the fee to rental-car companies, which pass it on to their customers.
The car-rental facility is part of the planned $1.3 billion Miami Intermodal Center next to the airport that is to connect passengers with Tri-Rail, Amtrak, buses, car-rental facilities and a planned extension of the Metrorail system linking the center to Earlington Heights.
Commissioners are responding to higher construction costs to build the facility, which is to be home to 16 car-rental companies. To cover higher-than-expected costs, a federal loan of $164 million will be increased to $270 million.
Under the loan's terms, customer facility charges are pledged for repayment. In addition, the rental companies will pay $14 million in contingent rent payments over the first three years of operations to help cover the higher costs.
All rental companies operating at the airport will be required to operate at the facility upon its completion.
A motion by Commissioner Audrey Edmonson that car-rental companies and customers split the burden of higher costs was voted down. Ms. Edmonson said the fees are becoming excessive and are "gouging" airport customers.
While some commissioners sympathized with Ms. Edmonson's position, most were unwilling to upset a delicately balanced concession agreement reached earlier this year among large and small car-rental companies after years of squabbling.
A 50-50 split would violate the agreement and require that it be renegotiated. The resulting delays could unravel and ultimately kill the entire project, some commissioners warned.
"We'll be killing the MIC dead," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said. "We've been discussing this for at least (six) years, if not longer. We will be building a MIC-Earlington Heights connector, and when you get off at the MIC, watch the first step because it's going to be a long one."
Mr. Gimenez said that even if the rental-car companies paid half of the increased costs, they would pass them on to their customers.
"That's my problem," Commissioner Natacha Seijas said. "No matter what we do, at the end of the day, the customer pays. It really hurts us at our airport to have these higher fees."