July 17, 2008

P.I. Council Seeks Clarification on Car Rental Plan


PRESQUE ISLE - City councilors ordered the people involved in completing an airport car rental company concession fee agreement at Northern Maine Regional Airport to clear up some hazy parts of the document.

The decision was made when the council met July 7 and reviewed the agreement, which set guidelines for off-airport car rental agencies.

One of the points of the document that councilors found troubling was a section that would have allowed an off-airport car rental agency to put a car in a designated lot at the airport after executing a rental agreement. It would have allowed the customer to get car immediately after leaving a plane. Today, many rental agreements can be done through phone, fax or over the Internet.

That section of the contract concerned Mark Freeman, who operates Avis and Budget Rent-A-Car at the airport.

Freeman told the council that the portion of the agreement would allow off-airport car rental agencies to leave cars in parking spaces with keys hidden somewhere on, in or under the vehicle. That would open the door to theft, Freeman said.

He also noted that the agencies would not have any agents at the airport to greet the customer or answer questions for them or provide directions.

Freeman suggested that the contract should require an off- airport rental agency to have an employee meet a person who was renting a car and take that person to the agency's place of business to execute the car rental and turn over the keys.

Councilor Calvin Hall said he agreed that the paragraph in the agreement was a little risky.

"Someone could get in intoxicated and drive off and hurt someone, or someone could find the keys to the rental car and drive off with it and do damage," he said. "What are the ramifications for the city?"

Scott Wardwell, director of the Presque Isle airport, said that the city solicitor had advised him that the city would have no liability in such cases. Wardwell also said that he had no problem with Freeman's suggestion that off-airport car rental agencies take their clients back to their place of business.

Councilor Ron McPherson said that he felt that a rental agency not physically handing the keys to a car to a customer was a bad idea.

"This is just asking for trouble, it really is," said McPherson.

Hall said he understood the point of having the off-airport car rental agency take clients back to their place of business, but he noted that it might not always be practical.

"What if they are renting a car from a place in Caribou and they have a hotel room at the Northeastland [Hotel in Presque Isle,]" he said. "They would have to go to Caribou only to come back to Presque Isle."

Councilor Jennifer Trombley said she felt the contract wasn't yet clear enough.

Hall agreed, saying he could not support the document as written and suggested it be turned back over to airport officials and legal counsel.

Councilors voted unanimously to do so.

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