Rental car rubber hits the road

James McLeod
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Tourism Perennial car shortage occurs in two event-crammed weeks

The city is quickly closing in on crunch time for rental cars, but it likely won't be as bad as last year.

While the peak summer season may be a pain for some tourists, however, it's a boon for others.

Empty rental car spaces are seen at St. Johns International Airport Thursday afternoon. Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The city is quickly closing in on crunch time for rental cars, but it likely won't be as bad as last year.

While the peak summer season may be a pain for some tourists, however, it's a boon for others.

"There's two weeks in the car rental business in St. John's - the last week in July and the first week in August - where even if everyone had 1,000 cars each, there wouldn't be enough," said Carol Ricketts, manager of National Car Rental in St. John's.

The provincial government has identified car rental as one of the weak links in the tourism industry.

In a report published in June, the government recommends more collaboration between rental car companies and working together to make things better for tourists.

But a lot of the biggest complaints - lack of unlimited mileage plans, expensive rates to drop off a car in Deer Lake - are just facts of life.

Because of the province's vast geography, some of those services are just untenable, Ricketts said.

"One of the things that we get hit on, is that we don't have unlimited mileage. Well, if this province was the size of P.E.I., I'd give it all day long," she said. "But someone can rent a car in St. John's and in a week, drive from here to St. Anthony, back down to Port Aux Basques and then back to St. John's. It's not realistic to give unlimited mileage."

Similarly, a lot of people complain they can't fly into St. John's, rent a car, travel across the island and drop it off in Deer Lake.

Ricketts said because of the distance, rental car companies have to treat the two locations as distinct, separate fleets of cars.

Ricketts said a lot of the crunch time could be alleviated if convention organizers would avoid the peak of tourist season.

"The challenge also is to the rest of the tourist industry, is not to pack everything into July and August," she said. "They've pushed the NOIA conference ahead a week for 2011, and I was like, 'This conference you can have in April.' It doesn't rely on good weather and you're sitting in a conference hall all day."

One group who benefits from a lack of rental cars is taxi drivers, said Gary Gushue, airport manager for City Wide Taxi.

He said last summer he had a steady stream of people taking cabs to rental car lots on Topsail Road and Kenmount Road, because there were no vehicles left at the airport.

"A friend of mine had a car lot, and I suppose I put a couple hundred jobs his way last summer," Gushue said. "Within a half-hour span here, I'd send 10 or 15 people to Topsail Road, out to my buddy."

Last summer was a lot worse, Gushue said, because Hertz was out of the picture after owner Tom Woodford Ltd. went bankrupt. Hertz is back in business this year.

It might get worse, but for right now, Gushue said everything seems to be OK.

"There's nobody looking for rental cars - they must have enough at the airport," he said. "This summer, I mean, (my friend) was phoning me yesterday saying 'Are you still at the airport b'y? I need some jobs on the go this summer.'"

Organizations: National Car Rental, Tom Woodford

Geographic location: St. John's, Deer Lake, Topsail Road St. Anthony Port Aux Basques Kenmount Road

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Recent comments

  • Phil Thomas
    July 23, 2013 - 11:27

    Does anyone know whether or not rental car insurance in Toronto is worth it?

  • Justin Jordan
    July 27, 2012 - 13:37

    How packed are the roads? I am planning picking up a moving truck , so I can start moving in.

  • mautzu
    September 01, 2010 - 18:55

    I think that car rental insurance is a healthy thing, you never know what can happen, is just like Let Property Insurance which cover the building itself with the option of including the contents left within.

  • Mark
    August 15, 2010 - 11:48

    Maybe some of the people complaining about the gouging, the profits, the insurance and the mileage rates should open a car rental company if they genuinely believe it is so lucrative. One of the problems in Newfoundland is we Newfoundlanders seem to believe there's a systematic conspiracy against us at every turn and a bogey man around every corner. Market economics, basic math, and the rules of supply and demand are no different in Newfoudland and Labrador than elsewhere. If renting out cars is so darned profitable, and if there's such a perceived shortage of them, go ahead and start your own business. Renting a car is cheaper in Calgary, Florida or Las Vegas, and on generally better terms, because there is heightened competition and an abundant supply of cars available to the rental market.

  • Jerome
    August 04, 2010 - 08:30

    I dont understand all the complaints about cost. I booked my car rental with Avis at St John's and there was no extra charge to drop it off at Deer Lake. Budget wanted an additional $ 300.00 for that service. Avis was $ 100.00 more than budget, but offered unlimited mileage and no charge for the Deer Lake return. In addition they upgraded us at no charge to a Dodge Charger (nice car) because they needed the car at Deer Lake. The cheapest deal is not necessarly the best deal. We turned down all insurance except for the additional to cover tires, lost keys and windshield. When we turned in the car at Deer Lake with a broken windshield, they told us that windshields were not covered. We were very upset and said we would not have bought the insurance if windshields were not covered which we were specifically told was covered. The manager of the Deer Lake store called the St Johns office and confirmed that the salesman at St Johns had in fact told us it was covered. They covered it for us at no charge. Thanks Avis.

  • S
    August 03, 2010 - 06:00

    I think you'll find this is mainly a summer issue. I know we rented a car in March and it was unlimited mileage and at a very reasonable rate under $30 per day. We drove a little over 400km and had no issues upon our return.

  • Shellbird
    July 24, 2010 - 15:56

    unlimited mileage - what a joke when he says they cannot offer it due to the size of NL... I almost fell off the couch laughin! I get unlimited mileage every time I rent a car in Alberta....get it in New Brunswick and even got it in Florida.... Didn't know Newfoundland was LARGER then all those places! Money grabbing...thats about it!

  • Jack
    July 23, 2010 - 12:32

    If the car rental agencies won't allow unlimited millage why not just raise the cap to 3 or 4 hundred km per day. That should please most travellers.

  • Jennifer
    July 23, 2010 - 12:16

    Greed, greed, greed, is all I can say. I've rented cars in other provinces with unlimited mileage and driven them from Ontario to Newfoundland and back. One year I put on 7000 km. Didn't cost me an extra cent. Also, you can have a rider put on your own car insurance for about $40 a year so that your own insurance covers the rental as long as you are not driving your own vehicle in that time frame. Bet the rental agencies don't tell people that. The insurance through the car rental agency is almost the same price as the rental. Make sure you do your homework before choosing a rental agent. The cheapest rates and mileage options are Avis and Enterprise for sure. Also the rates in the eastern provinces are much higher than the rest of the country. I can rent a car in Ontario for 3 weeks with unlimited mileage for about $900, and the same car in the east is anywhere from $1500-$2000. HIGHWAY ROBBERY for sure. I often thought of flying and then renting a car but at those prices who can afford it. It's cheaper to rent the car here and then drive, even with the price of gas.

  • Denis Yukon
    July 22, 2010 - 12:20

    It is not accurate to say that unlimited mileage is available everywhere but Newfoundland and Labrabdor. With 25 plus years working in travel agencies gives me some background when I say this. It is generally true that on the mainland and in the US most car are rented with unlimited mileage when in the large cities. Here in the Yukon that is not the case. Nor is it generally the case in places like Prince Rupert and Fort McMurray. It is also false to claim that one way rentals are both easy an econimical. For starters while the brand name maybe the same there can really be different location owners which can have some legal and liability issues. As I said the sitaution in the Yukon is not disimilar to Newfoundland. One company even permits one way rentals from Whitehorse, Yukon to Inuvik, NWT but with a hefty drop charge which is greater than the one week rental. The other companies forbid renters from taking vehicles on the Dempster Highway for the journey to Inuvik. On the nice neat roads and highways of the urban heartland of North America or in the year around tourist meccas the rental companies find it both more feaslible and almost a requirement to offer unlimited mileage. Away from there and dealing with rougher roads, greater distances, lesser population, the rental companies find it more diffucult and are less motivated to offer free mileage.

  • dennis brown
    July 22, 2010 - 12:03

    I rent a car at the airport for a month almost every summer. The extra milage usually doesn't cost that much, since I don't drive 100 km every day. However, the insurance is excessive, costing about half of the rental price. As for the hotels and restaurants, they are expensive, costing about as much as Paris or Vienna. Hotels are especially expensive. I suspect that a lot of the cost is taxes. Nevertheless, the quality is good. To say give up Newfoundland and visit Europe (where I have lived for the past 20 years) because it is cheaper is nonsense. For $150 CDN you will get a room the size of a closet in most major European cities. As for restaurants, well, you get what you pay for.

  • Just me
    July 22, 2010 - 10:58

    What she said is wrong about PEI because they dont offer unlimited mileage there either lol. As far as I know, NL and PEI are the only provinces in NL that dont offer unlimited.

  • Rob
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    I moved away from home in 1995 and I agree with the posters---I think it is greed on the part of the rental agencies to not offer unlimited kms on a car. One year, I rented a car here in Ontario, drove to Florida and back and that drive was far longer than anything I could have done in NL. Factor in that most rental agencies there offer just about 100-150 free kms a day, by the time one gets from the airport to downtown St.John's, one quarter of those are used up. Additionally, the rental companies do not plan adequately. Five years ago I had to make an emergency visit to the island due to a family illness and could not find a car in the city. All the agents said, sure, t'is like this every year this time. Have they not heard of planning? I had to rent a moving truck to get to Gander! Imagine, having to drive a monster of a truck down the highway for hours on end with nothing in the back? It caused a few eyebrows to raise at the hospital in Gander when I arrived. Between the flight cost, car rentals and hotel prices, I always tell my friends here that unless they have free accommodations back home, head to Europe instead, it will be cheaper!

  • R.B
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    The rental fleet manager's view on why National dosen't offer unlimited kilometres is ridiculous - she must be hearing it so often from her higher ups that she now believes it's true!! Car rental agencies all over CONTINENTS offer unlimited distance in their rental package - and we're supposed to believe they can't do it in Newfoundland? What she should have said was We can offer a rental car with unlimited distance in Montrea/Toronto/Ottawa because we know most tourists will only drive around these areas a bit, whereas there's so much to see in NL, we can gouge the consumer and because they have no options, they must pay . I find that approach in many tourism operators in NL. Overpriced hotel and restaurant service, for instance, as a byproduct of limited options and no competition. There are too many stories of attending at some outport restaurant and ordering seafood, only to get Capt'n Highliner served. I understand that there may be seasonal limitations on providing everything on the menu, but don't rip off the consumer as a result. Meanwhile, astoundingly poor service is too frequent in the St. John's restaurants and service industry generally. The industry operates on apparent entitlement - because tourists are here they must pay regardless of how uninterested or how slow the service is. Despite all the province offers, too much in Newfoundland is quickly becoming a bit of a rip off, and therefore a waste, for my tourist dollars.
    ps. I'm from NL

  • Mike
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    What a load of smoke! Do these rental companies in NL lean to far to the left? Only the Libs and the Dippers speak with such outright crap. I have had many an associate speak of the rental car problem in NL and apparently, it is true with no sign of relief. If the good folks of the Rock want to enhance tourism, then you folks best keep the presure on these rental companies. Plain and simple, this practise is rediculous.

  • Bill
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Ms. Ricketts comments are absolutely deplorable, and attest to the attitude of the car rental companies in this province ripping off the tourists. I have travelled all over North America and unlimited mileage is the standard except for this province. If government wants to help promote the tourism, it is time they step in and introduce regulations that prohibit this type of gouging.

  • Tony
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I agree. Just a bunch of greedy profiteers. Probably sell real estate too.

  • Peter
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    That's a lot of bull ^#%**! You can rent a car in California with unlimited mileage and I drove it for 2000 miles. This state is no PEI. And I also rented a car from Stockholm to Paris, with unlimited mileage. With drop off in Paris 3 weeks later with no problem, my brother has been going back and fort to NL (NFLD) for years renting a car, He finally gave it up last time he was there, it was to expensive, I'm sure there is a lot of people like him. You are not tourist frienly in NL, Your Hotel prices is way out of reach. I read one time it's because of your short season, more bull. I think a lot of people would come to NL any time of year if you didn't try to rip them off, they are not stupid . I relied on my Family to take me around, it would have been nice to have rented a car but that is way out of my financial reach.
    Yes the taxi service is good and I hope the best for them so next time take me around the bay.

  • Tracey
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I am saddened to read these negative comments about such a friendly province. We travelled to Newfoundland last summer (Aug 17-Sept 7), rented a car for one week (the middle week Monday to Monday). After phoning 4 rental agencies, we were finding there may be a possiblity of not getting one due to high demand. We found one at Avis at the airport. We rec'd a 2009 Chev Impala, brand new! It was a beautiful car. I was impressed. We drove it from St. John's to St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula, putting on 2200 km's. The cost was just around $1000. But think of it this way...we wouldn't have experienced the Beauty of Newfoundland, shared in the culture, music, and traditions, created memories, had pictures, spent our tourist dollars, or shared our enthusiasm for their BEAUTIFUL province...had Avis not come through for us. Yes, we rec'd 150 free km's per day = 1200 km's FREE for the week, having to spend 1000 km's at $0.15 per extra $150.00!!! And you think THAT'S not worth it? As for some of you saying that you get ripped off left and right in Newfoundland, that was not my experience. $40. for an awesome feed of Caribou at a finer restaurant is not unreasonable in my book. If Newfoundlanders are ripping you off, then they are also ripping themselves off as they don't have a special price for tourists. Unless maybe you're rude and ignorant...then maybe the price goes up. Yes, I LOVE Newfoundland, all from ONE visit. I have checked out the real estate in Newfoundland. It is not an unreasonable market as some would have you believe. My experiences were unbeatable, and I have 1500 photo's to prove it. I will return.

  • Steve
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    What a dumb comment to say that you can't offer unlimited mileage in somewhere as big as Newfoundland! I can rent a car in Las Vegas and have unlimited miles anywhere in Nevada, Arizona or California! Each of which are larger than our island. You can rent a car and drive unlimited in the Prairies too - nothing but rip off artists.

  • j
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I try to visit Newfoundland from the mainland at least once each year because I truly respect and cherish the land you call home. The lack of rental cars on competitive terms is a major deterrent to my wanting to come again in November. Can't anything be done?