Park a car, rent a car

news: Park a car, rent a car

I recently went to Madeira for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Beautiful place, friendly people, everywhere clean and tidy – you see how people judge a place they have been to for the first time? I wonder how many people say that about the Algarve nowadays? But I digress.

As I was going to be away for several days, I thought it would be sensible to leave my car in the long-term car park at Faro airport. At this point, all of you who know what I am going to say can skip two paragraphs. I say that because, a couple of years ago, I mentioned the fact that, having flown stand-by with BA from Faro to Gatwick, I was surprised I could not do the same thing coming back. I received some very scornful comments from seasoned travellers who made it clear I was the last person in the world not to know that.

So there I was, a bit before 5am, arriving at Faro airport. I drove up to the barrier of the long-term car parkand then saw a sign that said I could only enter by pre-payment. But there was no machine there, so obviously, I could not pre-pay.

At 5am, without the kick-start of a Portuguese coffee and with a plane to catch, I could not figure out this logic. Where was I meant to pre-pay? How? I gave up, reversed out of the entrance channel and put the car in one of the other car parks.

Some time later, I was speaking to someone who runs a small car rental company and asked if he knew how the system works. Apparently, you can pre-pay at the machine that is located at Car Park One, but you have to go into the car park and park, or else you will get a parking fine – buy a ticket, then leave Car Park One and go to Car Park Four. Or, presumably, you could park in number One and pay at the desk inside the terminal building.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to users to have a machine at the entrance, where you are asking them to pre-pay? The discussion moved on to other areas of car rentals and it seems that, as in many other areas of business, there are the big guys and there are the little guys, and it’s dirty out there.

Have you noticed how the display boards for the smaller car rental companies have got further and further away from the passenger arrival point? Pressure from the Big Boys, I am told. And even when a client does manage to find his small rental company, it is not plain sailing. I was told that, this summer, a rep from one of the Big Boys was caught roaming around, pretending to be using his mobile phone, sidling up to waiting clients offering them a big discount, if they would come with him to his desk. Is this the Algarve of quality tourism or a north African bazaar?

Have you or your friends rented a car from one of the Big Boys recently? Did you notice an amount added on to the price for ‘collection at airport’? Apparently that has been common practice for a few years now, anything from 18 to 25 euros. Well, OK, they have to pay for their desks at the airport, I suppose, but I don’t think you will find the smaller companies making a similar charge.

Have you also noticed something called ‘Road Tax’? Could be around one euro per day, plus IVA? That is more recent, perhaps in the last 12 to 18 months. This is not a government tax, this is a bright idea by the Big Boys as a way of increasing their profit. But, apparently, it’s only charged for a maximum of 15 days, even on longer rentals. A euro a day from each car rented out – that helps the bottom line!

Yes, of course, the Big Boys have more cars, newer cars, and bigger overheads, I do not dispute that. But all these little tactics are not helping the tourism trade in the Algarve as a whole. At a time when the region is finally waking up to the fact that it has serious competition and there are many other places that are cheaper, tricks like this do it no favours at all.

All the rental companies that use Car Park Four – the smaller companies again – are being squeezed in another direction as well. I am told that ANA, the airport company, which used to control the car park, has now been replaced with the new entity known as Emparque. This entity has tripled the fee for each parking place in the car park, from something like 100 euros per year, per car, to over 300 euros. In addition, it has sold more permits than there are spaces, which works fine in winter, but can you imagine the chaos in summer? Management risk taking, or greed? You never think about things like that when you take friends to and from the airport, do you? But next time you turn up at the long-term car park at 5am and can’t get in, don’t say I didn’t warn you!