The proposed fee scheme is "not fair and equitable at all," said Greg Russo, manager of the American International Rent-A-Car franchise, operated by Pacifico Ford. "It's only hurting the consumer."
Philadelphia International and most other U.S. airports have been collecting a 10 percent gross-receipts tax from the major "on-airport" car- rental companies, including Hertz, Avis, Budget and National, that have parking lots and rental counters on airport property.
The gross-receipts fee is collected in addition to rent of about $1 per square foot paid by the large car-rental companies for the space they lease at Philadelphia International.
In Philadelphia, the major car-rental companies have direct telephone lines in each terminal, so that customers can call free of charge when they arrive and alert a company to pick them up.
Unlike the bigger firms at most other airports, the major rental companies at Philadelphia International don't have counters in the terminal where customers sign contracts and pick up car keys. That is all done at the rental lots on airport property after customers ride there in company vehicles.
The smaller off-airport firms, including American International, Enterprise and Thrifty, have their free direct telephone links at lighted signboards in each terminal. The signboards primarily advertise hotel and limousine services. The firms' lots and rental counters are two to three miles away from the airport, meaning that customers must make a longer trip in a van or bus to reach them.
Under the proposed change in regulations, all car-rental companies that have direct phone lines from the airport would be treated equally, based on the theory that the lines provide customers an equally convenient way to call for an airport pickup. Off-airport rental companies that do not have direct phone lines from the airport terminal would not be involved.
Officials of Avis, Budget and Hertz endorsed the proposal at the hearing.
"We're paying a considerable amount in concession fees for a terminal location," said Theodore E. Hommel, Avis' regional director of properties. ''Others who are using the terminal should pay the same."
But representatives of the smaller companies said the effort was another try by the giants of the rental industry to limit competition, something the Federal Trade Commission found them guilty of before the airline industry was deregulated.
Joan S. Meier, a Washington lawyer representing Thrifty, said deregulation had promoted so much growth in the discount rental-car business that the majors were threatened by it. The big companies, however, voluntarily agreed years ago to the current concession-fee structure at the Philadelphia airport, and it is entirely reasonable that their costs of doing business are higher, given that they get more business by being closer to the terminals, she said.
"We don't oppose reasonable fees," Meier said. "This fee is unjust, unreasonable and will hurt the traveling public."
The off-airport rental companies also contended at the hearing that the proposed receipts tax would probably be the beginning of an effort to charge an airport "access fee" to numerous concessionaires that use the airport's
roadways. If such a fee were imposed, any hotel or limousine service that drove a vehicle onto airport property to pick up a customer could be the next target of a widened fee scheme, Russo said.
Much to the delight of the major car-rental companies - and to the dismay of the smaller companies - airports across the country in recent years have begun imposing access fees of 8 percent to 10 percent on any business that benefits from picking up customers at an airport terminal.
Lynn McDevitt, deputy director of aviation, said the city was considering such an access fee for Philadelphia International. But, currently, the Aviation Division is seeking only to adopt the more limited gross-receipts fee for car-rental companies with telephone lines in the terminal, she said.
Aviation Director James C. DeLong indicated after the meeting that if a broader access-fee system were adopted, it might not be as high as other
airports have imposed. A fee of only 2 percent or 3 percent of an off-airport company's receipts might be more reasonable, based on the theory that they operate at a disadvantage to the on-airport companies, he said.