Denver, CO

Denver airport may expand 'Airbnb for cars'

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Denver City Council Tuesday approved two contracts establishing a carsharing program at Denver International Airport.

Councilmember Chris Hinds called the program "an Airbnb for cars" during a Facebook chat last week.

The council's Business, Arts, Workforce and Aviation Committee approved contracts with carsharing companies Turo and Avail to operate at the airport.

With carsharing, people can rent vehicles from private owners. They can pick up cars at any airport parking lot except the short-term lot. An app facilitates arrangements between renters and owners.

The committee advanced the contracts to the full City Council for a vote. Hinds voted no because the companies' policies on handicapped accessibility seemed non-existent or vague.

Handicapped accessibility vague

Hinds said he went on the platform to try and rent a car. Only one platform, Turo, had a way to search for handicapped-accessible vehicles. Hinds said seven vehicles in Denver showed up, including a Porsche Cayenne, Land Rover and BMW. However, the app did not specify how the vehicles had been modified to be accessible.

Hinds said the contract conveys that "we as a city are not valuing our commitment to providing access to everyone."

Airport staff members told Hinds they could connect him with Avail and Turo representatives to discuss his concerns. Airport Parking Manger Brian Kramer said it is difficult to require private owners to adapt their cars.

Committee Chair Kevin Flynn joked he does not even like taking friends to the airport. Handing his car keys to a stranger seems even less appealing.

Hinds agreed. "I'm with Councilman Flynn. It sounds a little weird but hey, if people are doing it."

Industry seeing explosive growth

But the carsharing business is experiencing explosive growth. Denver's pilot program began 18 months ago at the airport.

Under the Turo contract, the city received 5 percent of receipts. Under the new three-year contracts, the city will get 10 percent.

Last year, the airport collected $1.3 million in carsharing fees from the pilot program. More than 54,000 transactions occurred.

Even during the pandemic in 2020, the pilot program tallied 15,000 transactions. In the first quarter of 2022, the city has collected more than $580,000 in fees.

Those numbers should balloon in the years ahead. The airport estimates revenues to the city of $3.4 million in the first year, $4.3 million in the second year, and $5.4 million in the third year.

No cars parked in neighborhoods

The airport also collects parking fees when a car sits in a lot waiting to be rented. City Council President Stacie Gilmore asked to add language to the contracts prohibiting carsharing companies from parking in residential neighborhoods, such as Green Valley Ranch.

Kramer said carsharing has not "cannibalized" the traditional rental car industry. Both industries have "grown exponentially," he said.

Kramer said the city only received one complaint during the pilot program, and the issue was unrelated to the Turo platform.

The full City Council still must approve the contracts and likely will do so next week.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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