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LAX plans a consolidated car rental facility

Los Angeles International Airport officials are drafting plans to build a terminal that will house many of the area’s rental car companies, providing space for 33,000 vehicles while helping untangle the airport’s notorious congestion and cutting pollution.

The terminal, which could cost as much as $800 million, is also expected to make it easier for people to find their rental agencies or switch from one to another if the line is too long or it doesn’t have the right car.

LAX has collected $47 million for the project since 2007 by charging a flat $10 fee on rentals from the 10 companies whose vans circle the airport looking for customers.

But the fee is not bringing in enough money, said Mark Adams, chief government affairs representative for Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX. In order to raise more funds, the airport is hoping to boost the surcharge through a daily fee rather than the current flat fee on rentals.

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The airport is still several years from beginning construction of the terminal.

Rental companies now are located throughout the airport. Besides the 10 permitted to circle shuttles at LAX, others are scattered throughout Westchester, Inglewood and El Segundo. They are allowed to pick up customers only when called.

The consolidated facility is expected to cut by nearly half the number of airport trips by rental car courtesy vans, according to Adams.

Although airport traffic is down substantially since 9/11, rental agency vans make about 800,000 trips a year into the main airport, according to airport statistics, often with just one or two passengers.

With a consolidated rental facility, buses would shuttle passengers between it and airline terminals, dropping the number of trips to 437,000 annually. Trips would be cut even further if a planned light-rail system with stops at the rental car terminal is built.

Adams said the rental terminal is “considered the most significant air quality mitigation” effort in the airport’s master plan.

The project is part of myriad plans to modernize the aging airport, including the $1.54-billion refurbishing of the Bradley International Terminal that began last week.

Chris Brown, managing editor of Auto Rental News, said consolidated rental car centers are becoming more common and have been built at airports in Kansas City, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Orlando. LAX, he said, has the second- or third-highest number of rentals in the country.

Plans originally called for the terminal to be built on parking lot C at Sepulveda Boulevard and 96th Street. But more recently, an area known as Manchester Square has become the preferred location. It is bounded by Century Boulevard on the south, Aviation Boulevard on the west, Arbor Vitae Street on the north and La Cienega Boulevard on the east.

The Manchester Square site is closer to the 405 and 105 freeways; and because it is out of the flight path, a higher terminal could be built.

Preliminary plans call for a three-story building that would hold 8,000 cars, with room outside for 25,000 additional overflow cars that serve as backup for other Southern California airport rentals.

Airports fund consolidated parking terminals with charges of $3 to $7 a day, Adams said. An average LAX rental is 4 1/2 days.

The more money the airport raises for the project, the less debt it would incur if it finances the project with a bond. The surcharges would end when the terminal is paid off, said Nancy Castles, spokeswoman for the airport agency.

The city is sponsoring a bill, which will be introduced by state Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach), that would allow the airport to change the current surcharge.

Rental car companies indicated they’d go along with the consolidated terminal, although they complain about increased charges and taxes added to car rentals.

“We think if the community wants to do this, we are very supportive,” said Laura Bryant, spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings, which owns National, Alamo and Enterprise car rentals. Consolidated car rental centers “are very consumer friendly.”

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com


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