New train will shuttle travelers to rental car center

The 67.5-acre rental car center, scheduled to open Nov. 10, will have two four-story parking decks and house rental car companies’ customer service, administrative offices, fueling and maintenance operations. It will take the place of rental car agency counters in the terminal and rental car lots around the airport.

The people-mover, called a SkyTrain, will go from the airport to the Georgia International Convention Center and then onto the rental car center. It will replace rental car shuttles and is separate from the people-mover that takes passengers from the terminal to concourses.

The new rental car center and train “takes dozens and dozens of buses off the road overnight,” said airport spokesman John Kennedy. “The congestion will ease.”

Residents benefit from a better experience for visitors because those who use rental cars in Atlanta also use hotels, restaurants and shops, generating sales tax for Georgia, according to Atlanta city council member Clair Muller, who chairs the council’s transportation committee that oversees the airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson is one of a number of airports that will have consolidated rental car centers, including Ft. Lauderdale and Phoenix. Boston and Seattle are also planning consolidated rental car centers. Some airports are able to build rental car centers next to the terminal within walking distance, while others, like Atlanta, build remote facilities.

For Atlanta, the fourth largest rental car market in the country, it’s a $642 million project that sustained an earlier cost overrun and delay. Airport officials say the center will open on time and under the revised budget. Construction started on the rental car center in 2006 as part of the airport’s $6 billion capital improvement program adopted in 2000.

About 2 million passengers rent cars at Hartsfield-Jackson annually. The rental car center is aimed at meeting demand forecast to grow nearly 65 percent by 2015. However, the market has dropped significantly amid the recession and activity is expected to drop 16 percent next year compared with 2008.

The new SkyTrain line will bring some long-awaited benefits to the Georgia International Convention Center, which relocated to its existing site in 2003 in anticipation of the connection to the airport via the people-mover. The city of College Park will pay $8 million plus interest for the convention center rail station, or a total of about $17 million, with payments beginning in 2015.

At Hartsfield-Jackson, the wait time between SkyTrain arrivals will be about three minutes during peak times, and up to 10 minutes during non-peak times and overnight. Each two-car train can carry 100 passengers and their baggage, and the ride will take about five minutes.

The link between the convention center and the airport will benefit meeting planners, trade show operators and large associations who will be able to fly in with quick transit to the convention center. It’s a benefit Austin is eagerly anticipating, after a year-long delay on the rental car center and SkyTrain project.

“We’ve seen the booking pace pick up starting in late 2010 and early 2011,” said convention center executive director Hugh Austin. “We believe that’s a result of the new development of the SkyTrain,” along with the planned opening of a Marriott, which will be the convention center’s flagship hotel. Austin said the center expects a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in bookings. “The Georgia International Convention Center will not achieve its full potential until we have the SkyTrain operational to the rental car center,” along with the new Marriott and planned SpringHill Suites hotel, Austin said.

How travelers to Atlanta will use the rental car center :

1) Pick up any checked luggage at baggage claim

2) Follow overhead signs and hallway placards to the rental car center

3) Proceed out the west end of the terminal under the covered walkway to the people-mover train station

4) Take five-minute ride on people-mover train

5) At the rental car center, sign rental agency contract and pick up car