Disney Shuttle Squeezes Ground Transport Rivals

Walt Disney World's Magical Express airport shuttle is on track to handle nearly 2 million passengers this year, but its success has come at a price for small rental car, limousine and bus companies, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

The free service shuttles passengers from Orlando International Airport to the Disney resort, accounting for more than 10 percent of all passengers who flew into the airport during the first six months of this year. As part of the service, travelers’ bags are delivered to their hotel rooms, allowing shuttle passengers to bypass baggage claim at the airport.

Magical Express is also growing in popularity, with passengers increasing 11.5 percent for the three-month period of May, June and July over those same months last year. Despite the 2.4 percent increase in the number of passengers flying into Orlando during the first seven months of the year, some small companies are struggling, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Operators at both off-airport and airport rental companies say Disney has taken enough business in the Orlando market that it has driven rates down. Only one of five rental companies at the airport showed a revenue increase for the summer months this year compared with last year. The other four experienced flat or decreased revenues despite a 3.6 percent increase in incoming passengers for the three-month period.

Rental-car companies that cater to budget-conscious leisure travelers report downsizing their fleets and staffs, some by up to 40 percent, saying that the shuttle service gives Disney and its bus operator, Mears Transportation Group, a monopoly on lucrative trips to the resort.

Because the airport charges Disney a fee for each passenger it picks up at the airport, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority stands to make more than $1.5 million from the service next year if it continues at the same pace. The passenger fee will increase from 50 cents to 75 cents in January as part of the airport's contract with Disney to extend the service through 2011.

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