By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HEBRON - Those who park at off-site lots at the airport and take shuttle buses to catch their flights could soon be faced with higher rates and possibly fewer options.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is considering raising the access fees that companies must pay to pick up and drop off customers. It could also change the way the fees are collected.
The airport charges the off-site lots $600 a year per courtesy bus. Airport officials want to change the arrangement, instead taking a percentage of these companies' revenues, arguing that the fees have not been raised since the late 1970s.
The owners of the three major off-site lots say that some companies would see an increase of more than 400 percent in what they pay the airport annually. They say they can't absorb those costs and stay profitable, meaning that they either close, sending customers to just one source - the airport lots - or they pass the new fees directly to customers.
"What it boils down to is that I have a business that competes with a division of the airport, and they're trying to take it back," Cathleen Matchinga, president and owner of ValAir Valet Parking, said. She said her annual payments to the airport would go from $3,600 to $133,000 under the proposal.
"I acknowledge that our businesses are there because of the airport, but the airport has grown in part because of us."
Matchinga's lot, which provides valet service and has a customer's car ready and running when he arrives from the terminal, charges $9 a day for return business. A fee of 7 percent of gross revenues proposed by the airport would mean an extra 63 cents a day, which Matchinga says she would be forced to pass on to customers.
"That wouldn't be enough to make me change my mind when I'm flying on business, but it sure would make me think about it when I'm traveling personally," said Rick Vater, an Alexandria ad salesman who flies three times a month and uses the ValAir lot every time. "That's just ludicrous that the rate hikes would be so high."
The airport board's operations committee examined the issue Wednesday but took no action. Dale Huber, the airport's deputy aviation director, said he will continue to negotiate with the off-site lot owners and hopes to take a final proposal to the full board next month.
Parking generated revenue of $15.1 million in fiscal 2002. That's about what the airport generated from landing fees, the money charged to airlines to use the runways, even though the on-site airport parking rates are some of the lowest in this region.
The proposed rate changes come after the airport has run two straight annual deficits, including one for $823,000 for fiscal year 2002. The shortfalls, made up by either a contingency fund or from airlines using the airport, were the first at the facility since the early 1970s.
Huber denied that the airport was raising the fees to drive business its own way. He said all such fees are under review, including those for taxis, limos and rental car buses.
"This is not related to affecting market share, since it's my belief that the product they offer is much different than what we have," said Huber, who would not say how much more revenue he thought the airport would generate from the higher fees. "This is not about revenue, either. They derive 100 percent of their business from the airport. Fair share is fair share."
Both sides have made counter proposals. Huber said he is willing to phase in the new fee structure over three years, starting at 5 percent and working up to 7 percent. The owners have countered by saying that a fee increase should match inflation over the last 15 years or so. That would put a per bus flat rate at about $1,200.
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