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Published: Saturday, 8/23/2008

Airport rental-car surcharge may go up

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A rental-car surcharge at Toledo Express Airport may rise for the third time in two years in the near future, this time because of declining air service there.

At the behest of airport rental-car firms, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority staff have proposed hiking the daily "customer-facility charge" from $3 to $3.50, just months after hiking it from $2. The fee was $1 per rental day as recently as last year.

The proposed fee increase, which Airports Director Eric Frankl explained yesterday to the port authority's airport committee and which will go to a vote Thursday by the board of directors, is intended to reduce the likelihood the rental firms will have to pay directly for the cost of a communal maintenance facility the port authority plans to build for them.

Although port staff reported as recently as June that airport car rentals have grown in recent months even as air travel there has plunged, Mr. Frankl said the rental firms fear Continental Airlines' and Delta Air Lines' imminent commuter-service pullouts could leave them in the lurch.

Should a customer-facility charge revenue fail to cover the service facility's debt service, the airport director said, the rental firms would have to pay a rent surcharge to make up the difference, and they're "very hesitant about paying contingency rent."

The rental firms and the port authority have agreed to split the service-facility project into two phases, with an office-garage and a car wash to be built immediately, but a fueling center to be put off until later.

Along with raising the daily charge, its potential duration would increase from five years to seven. But if rental-car business remains strong, Mr. Frankl said, the fee would be eliminated as soon as the maintenance center's debt is paid off. The communal maintenance facility will replace individual garages the rental firms now operate at the airport.

Airport officials hope the reduced overhead will result in lower rates for rental-car customers, though they concede there is no way to know for sure.

Mr. Frankl compared the rental firms' preference for a daily fee instead of having to raise their own charges to airlines' increasing reliance on baggage fees and other surcharges as an alternative to raising airfares.

The loss of Delta Connection and Continental Connection service also could put a squeeze on the port authority's budget, though Mr. Frankl said job attrition should suffice to keep the airport's books balanced for at least the rest of 2008.

Airlines serving Toledo Express traditionally have shared the overhead cost of maintaining common areas, such as waiting rooms and baggage-claim areas. But with two of Toledo's five remaining airlines leaving town shortly after Labor Day - Delta on Sept. 2, Continental on Sept. 3 - dividing those costs among the three others could make their local overhead unacceptably high, Mr. Frankl said.

The airport director said he plans to begin assessing for common-use costs on a per-passenger basis, and airport committee members, while not voting to endorse the plan, did not object to it.

Absorbing more of the airport's operating cost will cost the port authority between $30,000 and $40,000 a month, Mr. Frankl said. While some of that can be offset this year with savings from employees who retired recently and weren't replaced, he said, it is a problem that will have to be dealt with during upcoming budget planning for 2009.

"We're probably staring at another $300,000 to $400,000 in lost parking revenue," said Paul Toth, port authority interim president. On the cost side, he said, the port authority has to provide a certain degree of police, fire protection, and maintenance at Toledo Express "whether we have one passenger or 300,000."

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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