For years, out-of-towners who needed a car upon arriving at Logan Airport more or less had to rent from one of the rental companies on the premises. But the advent of car-sharing services threatens to change that dynamic — so much so that traditional car rental firms are engaging local authorities to keep the new services out.
Customers of the firm RelayRides, for example, connect car owners who are leaving town with incoming vacationers and business travelers who need vehicles. The Avises and Hertzes of the airport are crying foul because neither the car-sharing firms nor customers pay the standard hefty regulatory fees, which can add around 40 percent to the base rental price at big-city airports like Logan. Citing such complaints, the city of San Francisco is suing FlightCar, a car-sharing firm started by teenage entrepreneurs. Massport is frowning on RelayRides and FlightCar at Logan Airport, saying in a statement last month that such companies need to have formal agreements for operators to assure they “provide the levels of safety, security, and customer service that we expect from companies that do business at Logan.”
But Massport and its counterparts in other cities would serve customers better by taking a hands-off attitude as technology and consumer habits evolve. The interest in services like RelayRides and FlightCar is, at least in part, a reaction to the convention center surcharges, tourism assessments, and other fees slapped onto rental-car contracts around the nation; in this sense, interest in car sharing is a reminder to state policymakers that visitors shouldn’t be viewed as a captive audience. It also likely reflects a dissatisfaction with traditional car rentals and a curiosity about alternative options.
Even if it were to catch on with some customers, however, car sharing at airports isn’t likely to truly threaten the viability of traditional car-rental companies. Most weary travelers are willing to pay surcharges to hop in a late-model vehicle they know for sure is being maintained. That’s all the more reason to leave room for emerging services that save thrift-conscious visitors significant money when they come to expensive cities like Boston.