Passengers that land at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and need ground transportation will soon have a new option. Taxis will still offer curbside service, but one company will arrange rides from inside the terminal.
At Wednesday's airport authority board meeting, members authorized management to finalize an agreement with Sunshine Shuttle and Limousine Service. Officials hope to smooth out the process of arranging ground transportation – and save travelers money – by allowing the company to set up a kiosk inside the terminal.
According to Parker McClellan, Deputy Executive Director, the company will establish a shared ride plan to specific zones and at lower fares. For example, a ride to Pier Park in Panama City Beach will cost $35 instead of the current $45 fare, he said.
"What that does is going to allow for a better level of customer service because you're going to be able to do your transactions in the terminal rather than out on the curb," said McClellan. "The level of service and the cost to the rider were the driving factors in our negotiations."
June 1 is the target date for implementation of the agreement.
Meanwhile, the airport authority board reviewed statistics indicating fewer passengers traveling through ECP so far this year. In January and February, the airport served a total of 89,781 passengers. During those same months in 2012, the number of passengers was 105,641.
Officials attribute the 15% decrease to seasonality and a reduction in airline service. Southwest Airlines offers three fewer flights than last year – a 37% reduction in passenger seats.
Chairman John Pilcher, III said ECP is beginning to mature in its third year of operation and traffic could be leveling off. "We've had so much hype with this airport being new [but] that has kind of played out," he said. "We're going to have to stand on our own… we're going to have to do internally and externally what it takes and keep this airport running in the manner in which it has been running."
Board members are optimistic that March volume will show a reversal of the negative trend. Southwest renewed service to St. Louis earlier this month and will add a new flight to Houston on April 10.