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Tampa airport to consider policy aimed at Turo's Airbnb-style car rental business model

With space for 5,300 rental cars, the new rental car center at Tampa Interantional Airport cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. But the airport has said Turo, a San Francisco-based company that arranges "peer-to-peer" car rentals the way Airbnb matches travelers with hosts, is doing business as an unauthorized rental car company that does not pay the same fees as traditional car rental companies. A federal judge didn't buy that argument earlier this month. On Thursday, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority is expected to discuss a new policy aimed at Turo, which remains skeptical. CHRIS URSO | Times (2018)
With space for 5,300 rental cars, the new rental car center at Tampa Interantional Airport cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. But the airport has said Turo, a San Francisco-based company that arranges "peer-to-peer" car rentals the way Airbnb matches travelers with hosts, is doing business as an unauthorized rental car company that does not pay the same fees as traditional car rental companies. A federal judge didn't buy that argument earlier this month. On Thursday, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority is expected to discuss a new policy aimed at Turo, which remains skeptical. CHRIS URSO | Times (2018)
Published Jul. 30, 2019

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority went to court this spring to ban Turo, which does for renting cars what Airbnb does for overnight stays, from Tampa International Airport.

No, a federal judge said this month.

In denying the aviation authority's request for a temporary injunction, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven rejected the airport's contention that the San Francisco-based Turo is doing business at the airport as an unauthorized car rental company. Private car owners rent their vehicles to Turo customers through the company's online service and often meet the renters on airport property, though not at a Turo rental counter, to hand over the keys.

"It's not a car rental company, not by the definition of Florida statute, and not by the regulations of the aviation authority," Scriven said at a July 11 hearing. She also doubted the aviation authority could show either that it is likely to win its case — a prerequisite to getting a preliminary injunction — or that it is suffering irreparable injury (another prerequisite).

'THE PATH OF LITIGATION': Hillsborough Aviation Authority lawsuit accuses Turo of unauthorized use of Tampa International Airport property

Scriven didn't say that the airport couldn't win, but suggested winning might take "scorched earth litigation." So instead she gave the airport and Turo a chance to settle their differences in mediation. Both sides said they are open to that.

Meanwhile, the Aviation Authority is expected to discuss a policy change this week aimed at companies like Turo.

"Our position remains the same," airport spokeswoman Janet Scherberger said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "Turo, like any other business that benefits from the airport, needs to have an agreement in place to operate at the airport. We plan to take a relevant policy to the board on Thursday to provide a regulatory framework for us as this business model evolves."

The airport says this is necessary because it has spent $970 million to decongest the airport's curbsides, roads and rental car operations during the first phase of its master-planned expansion. But, airport officials say, "peer-to-peer" car companies like Turo do not pay the same kind of usage fees that rental car companies do to help maintain the facilities. At one point, the airport said in its lawsuit, Turo's rental website offered 198 rental cars that could be delivered to the airport.

THE NEXT PHASE: Tampa International Airport launches five-year, $187 million curbside expansion

The proposed policy would define peer-to-peer vehicle sharing as an arms-length, remote or web-enabled transaction in which car owners allow someone else to drive their vehicles for a fee. Meetings between owners and renters would have to take place at the airport's economy garage, which is next to the new car rental center. They would be banned from using the garages at the terminal or the pickup and drop-off curbsides. They would have to pay parking fees as well as a percentage of the gross receipts on the transaction. Those kinds of fees, airport officials indicated, are based on a variety of factors and are currently 12 percent.

Turo chief legal officer Michelle Fang said the company offered a year ago to pay the same $3- to $5-per-trip fee that taxicabs, Uber, Lyft and Wingz pay. But she said a 12 percent fee sounded like an undue burden on Tampa residents who want to do business through Turo.

"The fees aren't commensurate with the way the airport facilities are being used," Fang said. Turo will "strenuously object" if the aviation authority is exceeding what it can do under Florida law to regulate an out-of-state Internet company, she said. But she said the company hasn't seen a copy of the full policy, although it asked for one as recently as Monday. "It seems to me like they're trying to do an end run around the court's ruling."

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com. Follow @Danielson_Times