Chad Roberson, owner of Small Time Luxury Car Rentals, depends on airport travelers for a majority of his customer base. Operating as the sole employee of his company, Roberson used Palm Springs International Airport’s public hourly parking lot for picking up and dropping off his rental vehicles for customers. His luxury fleet mainly consists of Mercedes — from sedans to SUVs.
“With the parking spots, I could handle multiple customers who arrive at the airport at the same time,” said Roberson. “I would park the rental vehicles in the hourly airport parking and could take care of all the customers without needing an employee.”
On April 28, 2016, Palm Springs International Airport Authority prohibited Roberson — as an off-airport operator — from using the hourly public parking lot without any notice.
“A long-standing off-airport car rental permit indicated the broad term ‘parking allowed in commercial zone,’” Thomas Nolan, executive director of Palm Springs International Airport, wrote in response to an email from Auto Rental News. “It was discovered by an operations person that Mr. Roberson was parking in public paid, which was not the spirit or intent of ‘commercial zone’ in the decade-old permit.”
Roberson had been using the public parking lot since he started his business in 2009; he had gained approval by the airport to use it as an off-airport car rental company. Currently, Roberson is paying the airport a 9% access fee to pick up and drop off customers.
“Due to the airport’s contract with the on-airport car rental companies, the airport can’t lease or rent parking spots to off-airport car rental companies,” said Roberson. “But parking in the airport’s ACE public parking lot has been acceptable since at least 2002. My grandfather’s former car rental company Cros-Roads Car Rentals started using the lot in 2004.”
Conflict with Airport
After receiving the notice that he could no longer use the airport’s public parking, Roberson demanded to see this new regulation in writing.
Nolan agreed to meet with Roberson, but Roberson said Nolan wouldn’t provide him a written copy of this new rule. Roberson had the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) send a letter to Nolan requesting the airport disclose the legal authority for the parking restriction.
Roberson then went to Palm Springs’ Mayor Robert Moon and City Manager David Ready, but neither could provide him with any more information.
In November 2016, Roberson said the airport authority threatened to pull his business permit after he reported a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety issue. According to Roberson, he requested to meet with Nolan but hasn’t heard back from Nolan or any of his staff members.
In December, Roberson’s 2017 Off-Airport Permit application included the new terms banning off-airport car rental companies from parking in the public lot. The application stated: “Permittee shall not utilize the public parking lot to park vehicles for the purpose of meeting, picking up, or dropping off a customer.”
“The permit language was revised so there is no room for misinterpretation that this type of activity by all off-airport car rentals must occur in specific commercial zones,” Nolan wrote in the email.
“They want me to get an airport shuttle van to shuttle all of my customers out of the airport to my rental location and to pay those taxes and fees,” said Roberson. “The cost of getting a shuttle and hiring another employee as a driver isn’t possible for my business to be profitable.”
Roberson said he will comply with the new regulations. But since Jan. 1, 2017, Roberson has witnessed another off-airport rental company continuing to use the public parking without enforcement from the airport, even after the prohibition was indicated in the off-airport permit application.
Roberson wants answers as to why this company isn’t having to comply.
“All rules apply to all such firms,” Nolan wrote. “If someone is trying to use the lot, that is not permitted. Just because we do not catch them does not mean we condone it.”
For Roberson, losing access to the public parking spaces has already started hurting his small rental business.
“Now I can only take care of one customer per flight and have eliminated all of my dual flight customers,” he said. “I can no longer grow my business: my future, my retirement.”
By Amy Winter-Hercher