What can we say about Columbus, Ohio? It's the home of The Ohio State University and the airport is named after one of the coolest astronauts to ever live. It's also a short drive from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, one of our favorite places in the State of Ohio. The airport will -- over the coming years -- be receiving a new airport terminal (by 2035-ish) as well as a new rental car center (by 2020). And in a move that could do nothing but backfire, the new rental car facility will be built adjacent to the not-yet-designed terminal, necessitating shuttle buses as a "long-term temporary" fix!
The New Consolidated Rental Car Center
First, it's clear that Columbus has some potential inflation on their hands. Why do we say that? In a May 2017 press release, the airport was headed toward a $1 billion (yes, a thousand million) terminal 15-18 years in the future. By November (six months later), the long-term plan was for their $2 billion terminal.
But the airport has already signed contracts for the new rental car facility, slated to open in 2020 and located adjacent to the new $2 billion (or $4 billion or $8 billion or $16 billion) terminal that's estimated to open sometime around 2035. Indeed, the rental car facility -- for a period of approximately 15 years -- will move from adjacent to the existing terminal to adjacent to the imaginary terminal. And moving the rental car facility away from the existing terminal means CMH is dedicated to running rental car shuttle buses for all of those years! If the new terminal never arrives based upon some endogenous or exogenous factor (looking your way, Ontario, California and your Terminals 1, 2, and 4) then it's simply a consolidated rental car facility that has a shuttle bus in perpetuity. After all, the airport authority admits:
The goal is to open the new terminal when demand warrants it.
Over the last two years, passenger traffic has increased 15 percent at John Glenn International, with more than 7.3 million passengers traveling through the airport in 2016.
A study is underway to determine the optimum capacity of the current terminal. To be completed in late 2017, the study will examine checkpoints, holdrooms, curb fronts, baggage processing capabilities and much more. This information, plotted against forecasted future passenger growth, will help us to identify the time frame for opening a new terminal, which is expected to take about two years to design and three years to construct.
So the terminal design would have to be started in approximately 2030 to open in 2035, if/when demand warrants. Which means the official opening date of the new terminal is a shoulder shrug and a series of question marks at the moment. The airport does provide reasons for moving the rental car facility and having shuttle buses for the next approximately two decades:
- The current rental car configuration is not ideal.
- The airport does forecast growth.
- The airport needs more parking near the terminal.
- The airport has been collecting Customer Facility Charges for a rental car terminal.
So the real reason rental cars get moved far away from the existing terminal? The last two reasons listed above. Local residents need more parking and the airport's been collecting funds that can only be used for rental car facilities. So if anyone's going to be inconvenienced in a decision-making framework (local parkers or rental car users), it's going to be the rental car users:
- Airport parkers are assumed to be local residents (and those folks get votes),
- Rental car users at airports are considered visitors (read, taxpayers without votes), and
- The Customer Facility Charges (CFC) collected on a rental car can only be used for rental car facilities (follow the money).
What does the CFC look like in action today?
Yes, the rental car company forks over 10% of total rental revenue to simply operate at the airport (10% of 111.1% is 11.1%). And yes, the airport authority and the rental car company tag-team to provide a 71.9% tax and fee burden on this hypothetical one-week rental ($81.34 on $113.10). And the Fee Detective's least favorite (but endemic in the United States) tax? The "Customer Facility Charge" that pays for the rental car center and disproportionately punishes renters with longer rentals. Does a person who rents a car for a week cause seven times more wear and tear on the facility than a one-day renter? Of course not. But in an attempt to wring maximum funds out of visitors (and not chase all the short-term renters to ride-hailing services by assessing a one-time fee), airports have decided it's cool to charge a daily fee for all the days one is not using the rental car center.
So the next time you fly into the John Glenn Columbus Internation Airport, just remember the airport authority's charging you $6.50 per day on your rental car so they can build a less convenient rental car facility! Unlike the Bernstein tune in the musical Wonderful Town, we won't lament leaving Columbus and their rental car taxes and fees!