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2006-01-20 17:40:21

Unconscionable Rate Increases

Aiport parking rate increase represents an increase from 1.68 cents/hour to $2.00 dollars/hour or an increase of over ten thousand percent. This is absurd.

In the midst  of my last minute junkanoo preparations on December 30th 2005, I happened to pick up a copy of the Freeport News for that day. What immediately caught my attention was one of the headlines on the front page. No it wasn't the story about the new policy on bonded items or the residents at the Royal Oasis. Instead, the story that stood out the most was the one announcing the end of free parking at Grand Bahama International Airport. This in itself was no surprise as prior to hurricane Frances in 2004, the Grand Bahama public was use to paying for parking at the airport. The very affordable fee of two ($2.00) dollars for parking up to a week or longer was both affordable and acceptable to all.

However, as I continued with the rest of the article, I suffered a severe case of sticker shock. Ouch!!!! I thought that maybe there had been a misprint or typo error. The new rate would be two ($2.00) dollars/hour. This means that instead of paying two dollars for the week (one hundred and sixty-eight hours) as we did a year and a half ago, we must now pay two dollars for just one hour. This represents an increase from 1.68 cents/hour to $2.00 dollars/hour or an increase of over ten thousand percent. This is absurd. Furthermore, the article went on to state other fees. For a single day, the fee would now be seven ($7.00) dollars.

How on earth can the Grand Bahama Airport Company justify such a radical and outrageous fee increase at this time? Certainly they must be aware of the rough times that Grand Bahama is going through. With the sharp downturn in the economy and unemployment being the highest "in living memory", even just a slight increase could be burdensome. For God's sake, how is the little man suppose to survive in this town?. The island had been recovering from three hurricanes in recent times and many Grand Bahamians are having a hard time making end meet. Only "Scrouge" from the Charles Dickens stories could have given a worst Christmas present as these new rates were expected to come into effect on January 4th 2006. As a frequent traveler and therefore a frequent user of the parking facilities at this airport, this new increase would definitely affect my pocket and place a further on my already limited finances.

Yes the GB Airport Company has lost some revenue since the hurricanes as parking fees were either not being collected or unable to be collected as the machines collecting the fees mat have been damaged in the storms. Also, with the destruction of the original terminal building, all of the offices and businesses had to be relocated. Bahamasair and other domestic carriers were relocated some distance away from the parking lot. Therefore it may not have been too practical to use this parking lot if you were traveling on Bahamasair. A new parking facility was constructed near the domestic terminal and the original parking facility was simply renovated with a new fee collecting machine  installed. In addition, some new fences were added and some painting of divisional lines indicating where to park was also done.

All of the expenditures were basically capital expenditures. The fee collecting machines are automated and no personnel are needed to operate them with the exception of periodic maintenance. Where then is there the big expense to operate the only parking facility on Grand Bahama that charges a fee for parking? In short order, the GB Airport Company should recuperate their investments in the parking facility. This writer is fully aware that at virtually every International airport around the world, there is a fee for parking. What is in question here however is the unconscionable amount and the fact that the public appears to have been taken advantage off. Even with these new fees, signs are still on display indicating that the GB Airport Company is not responsible for the security of your vehicle while it is in their parking lot. For example, if someone steals your car battery or tires, that is your loss as the GB Airport Company does not guarantee complete safety and security of your vehicle at their parking facilities.

There is much local speculation as to where the excess profits from the parking lots will end up. For years now, the Grand Bahama traveling public had been unfairly and unconstitutionally being charged an extra $3-$5 for departure tax. Grand Bahama is the only airport in the entire Bahamas being forced to pay these additional funds to leave the Bahamas. Nowadays, they are much more diplomatic in collecting these fees as the fees are no longer directly requested, but hidden in the purchase of the airline ticket. Supposedly, the purpose of these addition fees was to defray the construction cost of the new International Terminal of up to thirty million dollars. The million dollar question is whether or not the parking fees will be used to construct a new airport building to replace the one lost to the hurricane. Certainly, that building must have been insured against such a lost?

I am going to be bold by making some suggestions as to how profits from the parking fees should be spent in upgrading the airport buildings. As I have stated on a prior occasion, the new airport building is a wonderful piece of Bahamian construction and it is one that puts Nassau International Airport to shame. However, the airport cannot be defined in terms of construction, but in terms of function and common sense. Something as simple as putting an overhead above the main entrances so that travelers are not soaked when it rains as they are loading or unloading. More seats need to be placed throughout the building to accommodate elderly and physically challenged persons who may need to rest as they make their way through various areas of the building. It has often been said that the first impression is often the most long lasting. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect a grand welcome when one arrives at the Grand Bahama Airport. There is not even an official sign that welcomes you or which airport you are at. Sometimes, there is a flimsy banner welcoming certain groups that are placed there by their promoters. On the inside of the Immigration/Customs area, the walls are bare. There are no pictures of scenic Bahamian areas or Bahamian officials such as the Prime Minister, Minister of Transport/Tourism or the Governor General. And yes, there are no junkanoo pieces (not even from the Swingers) on display indicating a taste of Bahamian culture and appreciation. The same is true in the U.S.Pre-clearance area. There is a wonderfully decorated café with some very friendly staff who know how to make a great Goombay Smash. Regrettably, their deli serves no Bahamian food. The Ministry of Tourism should play a more active role in advising the GB Airport Company.

By: Dr. Leatendore Percentie
Boston, Massachusetts

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