Ahead of toll hike vote, Port Authority unveils plan for rental car hub at Newark Airport

Days before it votes on proposed toll and fare hikes, the Port Authority on Tuesday ceremonially unveiled its plans for a new, centralized rent-a-car center at Newark Liberty International Airport, part of a sweeping makeover of the busy air hub.

The six-story complex will house all the airport’s now-scattered car rental outlets in one building, with 3,000 spaces for rentals, another 3,000 for public parking and gas stations. ConRAC — shorthand for consolidated rent-a-car — will connect via walkway to the new Terminal One, now under construction as a replacement for the airport’s aging Terminal A.

The work at Newark, which handles 43 million passengers a year, comes as the bi-state agency is embarked on a number of other major capital programs – including the remaking of LaGuardia Airport in Queens – and has a host of other projects in the pipeline.

On Thursday, the Port Authority Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on a series of toll, fare and fee hikes to help pay for it all, including:

  • Toll increases at the Hudson River crossing of $1 for cars paying cash and $1.25 for E-ZPass customers,
  • A two-stage increase for PATH riders who buy passes and multi-ride packages, raising fares roughly 25 percent by next year.
  • A jump in cost of AirTrain service at both Newark and JFK, to $7.75.

The agency has held a series of public hearings on the proposals.

“We’ve heard from hundreds and hundreds of people, and we’re sifting through all the comments right now,” said Kevin O’Toole, chairman of the PA Board of Commissioners. “And we’re going to have a discussion on Thursday with the Board of Commissioners and hear from the staff and see what they recommend and take it from there. This is a decade in the making, though — just so we’re clear.”

The Port Authority is also looking to impose airport access fees paid by ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, as well as taxis — $2.50 for both pick-ups and drop-offs for the app drivers, and $1.25 for cab pick-ups only. Uber already pays the city of Newark $1 million a year for access to the airport.

For taxis, it’s another hit for a struggling industry.

“The job is already very difficult,” said taxi driver Aboudakar Keita of Parlin. “If you have to spend extra money from the money that you’re barely making, it becomes a tough situation.”

The Port Authority says they are sensitive to the added burden, but the flood of vehicles serving passengers at the airports imposes costs that have to be borne somewhere.

“I think there’s a recognition for the challenges that are in the industry, but we also followed the model that was done at LAX when we’re looking at the access fee proposals, and we thought that was appropriate to apply here in this area,” said Huntley Lawrence, the PA’s director of aviation.

The developer of the car rental hub, ConRAC Solutions, says the complex will cost $500 million to build. Construction is already underway, with the public parking due to open in two years and ConRAC itself in three.

The company has eight similar operations and targeted Newark as a good economic bet.

“It’s really the amount of traffic that comes through the airport here,” said Mark Pfeffer, the company’s founder and CEO. “So you can project rental car transactions way into the future based on the past and looking at what’s happening at the airport and how it’s growing and passenger counts.”

Frequent flyers say it’s about time.

“They do that all over the place, now,” said Melinda Clemons of Atlanta. “Everywhere is doing that, and making parking and return … If you can pull in and get your gas and drop your car off and easily get back to the terminal, it makes travel easy.”

O’Toole said the car rental hub is part of a bigger plan for the busy airport.

“This is what people of New York and New Jersey want, and this is what they’re going to get,” the former state lawmaker said. “We’re very proud to tell you, air traffic is increasing at 4 and 5% across the states, and we can’t accommodate that, unless we build new, state-of-the-art facilities.”

Beyond the replacement of Terminal A, which is slated to cost $2.7 billion, the Port Authority also has plans to replace Terminal B at Newark and to build a new, $2 billion AirTrain, which is still in the planning stages.

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