Tampa International Airport loves passengers; well, at least the airport authority loves the fee revenue created by passengers. And for those flying into the airport, Valentines Day 2018 is fairly momentous, as individuals renting cars from the airport finally have the rental car facility they've been paying for since a major 2014 fee increase. A frequent headache for travelers to Tampa in the past was the frustration of remembering which 8 of the 15 rental car companies were on-site and which 7 of 15 required a shuttle. As of today, there's no need to break out the emergency aspirin as all rental cars are now in a single facility, at the end of the (SkyConnect) line. And while that process will be less convenient for most and more convenient for others, the process of picking up and returning a car will at least be consistent.
We mentioned the SkyConnect train in a previous post and that train line was officially dedicated last week. The change for users of the airport is substantial -- if one rented yesterday from ACE, Fox, Payless, Sixt, ZipCar or some small regional firms at the airport, a shuttle was needed to and from the airport terminal and the rental car company's remote location. Today, everyone rides the SkyConnect to the single rental car facility, where all fifteen providers are located. This new truly consolidated Consolidated Rental Car Facility (CONRAC) is accessible at the end of the 1.5-mile SkyConnect train and if a rental car company wants to rent to customers at the airport, the company has to be located within the CONRAC and remit tribute to the airport authority.
Sometimes, we're amazed airports can put together projects like these (even with delays)!
Of course, the new rental car facility comes at a cost. In fact, there's both a non-financial cost and financial cost. Let's start with the non-financial ...
Remember how many major companies such as Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty were very near the baggage claims? That's no longer the case. In order to find enough space to build a facility that accommodates all companies, the new CONRAC is 1.5 miles away. Renting a car? You will ride the SkyConnect train.
Then there's the financial cost of the new facility (and train line). The airport gets three batches of money from the rental car companies:
- There's the actual cost to lease space (normally hidden from the consumer),
- There's the Concession Recovery Fee, where the airport gets another 9.5% of the rental car company's gross revenue (listed as a 10.4% "surcharge") and
- Then there's the Customer Facility Charge, where renters pay off the fancy new facility and train.
The Customer Facility Charge in Tampa is not cheap. In one of the worst examples of "damning with faint praise" we've ever seen from an airport authority, the fee initially (in 2013) deemed necessary for the rental car center ($5 per rental day, every rental day) was described by airport staff as "less than the fee charged by O'Hare". No airport authority should ever willingly describe their fee structures with Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco as a benchmark. Sadly, the $5 per day fee wasn't sufficient after the facilities were delayed, so it's now $5.95 per day (much closer to O'Hare's fee) as this fee breakdown from Avis states.
Change and upgrades are a constant at major airports and the CONRAC was one way of putting all rental car companies on the same playing field; we're great fans of airports like Nashville that have made the conscious choice to place the CONRAC within walking distance (forgoing some overpriced parking) but realize that Tampa (and many other airports) have taken a slightly more remote approach. Tampa's new CONRAC was just phase one of a three-phase plan to renovate the airport as part of the Facility's Master Plan and create the capacity to serve far more customers than the airport does today. Phase 2 involves commercializing the area around the CONRAC (including overpriced gas and a corporate park) and alleviating curbside congestion, while Phase 3 involves building a new "Airside D" concourse with 16 gates for the anticipated increase in airport traffic, joining the existing four airsides (A, C, E, and F). So while we will lament easy access to many rental car companies, we understand the logic in building a new, consolidated rental facility for all rental companies.