A rental car is washed at Rapid City airport's new turnaround cleaning facility.

A rental car is washed at Rapid City airport's new turnaround cleaning facility.

To provide updated and convenient cleaning facilities for each of its on-airport rental companies, Rapid City Regional Airport decided to build a quick turnaround facility next to its rental vehicle ready/return lot.

The $2.9-million facility includes a refueling station, four drive-through detail bays (three single bays, one double bay) and two large car wash tunnels.

“The closer the wash facility is to the return lot, the more efficient and effective the car rental companies can be,” says Cameron Humphres, airport director. “After a rental car is returned, the agent can immediately take the vehicle over to the turnaround facility to be washed and refueled.”

Already, the new car wash facility has helped cut costs, especially when it comes to water usage. The new system recycles 80% of the car wash water, says Humphres. It collects the water, puts it into settling tanks and then filters it before being reused in the car wash.

Before the consolidated facility, each rental company had its own separate wash bay at least a quarter mile away from the airport, says Humphres. Not only were the facilities outdated and incapable of recycling water, but it was also inconvenient and time-consuming for agents to drive off-site for a car wash — not to mention getting caught in airport traffic while en route.

Additionally, the airport, sitting on a plateau with limited space, now has more land that can be used for taxiways and aircraft parking ramps, adds Humphres.

But how do you get four separate — and competing — car rental companies to agree to use the same cleaning facility?

Financing the Facility

Although Humphres admits it was a more difficult process negotiating with the four rental car companies (Hertz, Avis/Budget, Alamo/National and Enterprise) than building the facility itself, it appears the rental companies like the convenience and efficiency of the new facility.

Take Josh Becker, city manager of the on-airport Avis Budget franchise, for example. “Located about half a mile away from the airport, we had a washing facility that we felt was adequate enough at the time. But after working out the details with the airport, the new facility has been great so far. It’s great having everything on-site.”

Humphres and the Rapid City airport wanted to create a better wash facility — without the partner rental companies having to put up capital for it. Paying the facility’s upfront cost through long-term bonds, the airport collects a customer facility charge (CFC) to repay the total cost, says Humphres.

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To manage the facility and pay for general maintenance, the airport charges each rental car a certain percentage based on its usage, according to Humphres. Each company has its own detail bay, but they all share the car wash and fueling station.

For the detail bays, the airport divides the total cost of running the bays by the square footage of each bay. With 45% market share, Hertz uses the double bay and pays more in fees.

To determine the fees for running the wash tunnels, each rental company scans its key fob and is charged per car wash — a system tracks the number of cars washed.

“The rental companies are using the facility jointly but paying for the services individually,” says Humphres.

Convenient and Efficient

After a three-year process, the turnaround facility opened in 2013. With two tunnels for car washing, the system is efficient in getting cars in and out and ready for the next renter.

So far, there hasn’t been a line of cars waiting to be washed, according to Becker. A car can go through the car wash — which includes heated floors and automatic doors for cold weather — in about one minute.

“It is a lot quicker, especially with the drive time to the old facility eliminated,” says Becker. “With the old car wash system, the drive time alone for 20 cars in an eight-hour day was probably an extra 45 minutes. With the new facility, the cars are in and out and back ready to rent.”

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