Transportation & Logistics

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Rental Cars Becoming a New Endangered Species

1 Nov, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
In the Aftermath of Hurricanes, Rental Agencies Can’t Keep Up with Demand

And you thought bottled water would be hard to come by – but only for a little while.  Instead, the unfortunate and lasting legacy of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey is a shortage of something the travel sports industry needs but may not have even thought of: rental cars. And not just in the affected states, either.

According to an article in USA TODAY, so many cars were destroyed as a result of the flooding in Texas and Florida that finding temporary replacements has depleted the supply of rentals. And weeks are turning into months as owners of ruined vehicles try to sort out the red tape of having insurance companies declare their cars a total loss, and finding a way to shop for new ones.

And all that has led to a long-term shortage of rentals – not just in major cities where airports have the busiest ticket counters, but in quiet suburbs and small out-of-the-way agency locations.

In affected areas, rental cars went underwater along with private vehicles, so for residents there, it wasn’t a matter of being able to call the neighborhood agency for a quick replacement.

The Avis Budget Group, noted the article, is “moving vehicles into the affected areas as quickly as possible to increase inventory to satisfy our customers’ needs,’’ spokeswoman Katie McCall said in an e-mail, adding that the company is also working with corporate clients to get cars to those who’ve lost personal vehicles.

The result of that, however, is that many individuals who have rented and paid for cars in advance – and who have a confirmation number – are finding themselves out of luck when they arrive at the airport in their destination.

The mounting frustration and complaints have led some car companies to take desperate action. According to the web news site for Bloomberg, Enterprise has been trying to replenish supplies in Houston by gathering up autos from nearby cities and states and by diverting cars that were about to be sold at used-vehicle auctions. The company has moved about 4,000 vehicles to the area with another 13,000 on the way, Enterprise said in a statement.

Early news said that in Houston alone, more than 500,000 vehicles were destroyed, even more than were lost in New York during Hurricane Sandy. And as agencies in adjacent states are pressed into service to supply vehicles (some examples: Alabama for Florida’s shortage, Louisiana for Texas’ shortage), the ripple effect is driving up the cost of rentals.

In some cases, the price of rental cars has gone up, and in others, the only cars left in agencies are high-end sports models that are impractical – not to mention too expensive – for the majority of drivers.

It’s all very understandable – but it’s about to become an even bigger problem as fall sports move into their tournament seasons and large numbers of players, families and personnel arrive in out-of-town destinations and can’t access the rental cars they were counting on.

Owners and rights holders of sports events should check with rental car companies in their competition destination, just to make sure rentals will be available. If they can’t be guaranteed, use the advance notice investigate alternatives, including rental shuttles and charter buses, taxis or services like Uber and Lyft. And by all means, notify participants, who – though they won’t enjoy the situation – would like the surprise even less.

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