Nashville airport ‘gouging’ parking competitors, businessmen say

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Two Nashville businessmen who compete for long-term parking lot customers with the Nashville International Airport say airport officials are gouging them with drastic fee increases — presumably to drive away their customers .

Those two businessmen, David Hornsby and Eric Lowman, also compete for parking lot business with hotels adjacent to the airport — none of which have to pay those higher fees, they said.

Hornsby, president of Executive Travel and Parking, and Lowman, owner of Flight Park Valet Airport Parking, say they hope a bill in this year’s Tennessee General Assembly fixes things.

According to the bill, as it pertains to airport-parking fees among different competitors, two parties who use the facilities in the exact same way would be charged the same user fees.

PARKING FEES: A billboard advertising airport parking lot services in the immediate vicinity of three private businesses that compete for those customers.

Airport officials, meanwhile, oppose the legislation sponsored by Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville.

“We have a policy, as all airports do, related to different classifications of operators, from taxis, hotel/motel shuttles to special events and also off-airport parkers,” airport spokeswoman Emily Richard said.

“There’s different classifications, and they pay different fees and permit fees based on the type of operation they are.”

Those off-airport parking operators already agreed to the increase, according to a letter airport officials sent state legislators this year.

“They agreed to a modest fee increase phased in over the next three years,” the letter said.

Hornsby, however, has a much different interpretation.

“We got a letter telling us we are going to go from $1.75 to $6.50 per trip to go pick that customer up,” Hornsby told Tennessee Watchdog, disagreeing with anyone who interprets that as a modest increase.

Hotel operators, meanwhile, still pay significantly less than $1.75, Hornsby said.

“Some of the off-airport parking operators might be forced to raise their rates, potentially funneling parking revenue to the on-airport parking facilities,” Hornsby said.

He said he thinks airport officials have harbored those intentions all along.

Hornsby points to language in a 2002 airport document, which Tennessee Watchdog has not yet authenticated, in which consultants advise airport officials on ways to generate more revenue.

One way, according to Hornsby’s interpretation of the document, is to raise fees on off-airport parking operators.

“If the airport taxes us, it forces us to pass it onto our customers, raising our prices and that pushes people back over to their lots,” Hornsby said.

“We have pushed Nashville to improve their service to the benefit of the public. The airport is supposed to be for the public benefit to create commerce. We helped push them to be better to the benefit of the traveling public, and they don’t like the competition.”

GOING UP: An airplane departs from the Nashville International Airport.

Lowman, meanwhile, told Tennessee Watchdog those higher airport fees, combined with the usual sales and property taxes, make it difficult for him, Hornsby and their other two private competitors to do business.

“The airport officials have not only followed the consultant’s advice on how to kill us, they’ve multiplied that by a factor of three,” Lowman said.

“You would think that charging us the way that they do was brazen enough.

“But many of our customers, while in the shuttles, have to pass an airport billboard nearby, that directly advertises what the airport says is a better parking lot. It’s strategically placed. We know what they’re trying to do,” Lowman said.

Richard, though, said airport officials aren’t doing anything unusual by advertising their parking services.

“Parking is a large percentage of our revenue, so we do have to communicate to passengers and visitors about that service,” Richard said.

“We’ve communicated that message via many media vehicles for years. That is not an attempt to deal with our partners in a negative way. That billboard has been there for several months.”

If the bill passes, Richard said, the airport could lose various federal grants, which require that airports charge fees to make them self-sustaining.

The legislation could also harm Nashville’s economic development, she said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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