TAMPA - About $1 million separated the top two companies vying to provide parking and shuttle services at Tampa International Airport, even though the ratings of both proposals were practically even.
On Thursday, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board did not go with the airport staff's recommendation to choose the current provider, Republic Parking System, which priced the five-year contract at $4.37 million. Instead, the board awarded the contract to Ampco System Parking, which offered to provide the same services for $3.34 million.
"There's such a small difference in the scoring, and there's a $1 million difference in the cost," said Mayor Pam Iorio, a member of the authority board. "They are statistically even."
John Levins, senior vice president of Republic, told the board that Ampco offered a significantly lower price because it underestimated the number of miles logged by the shuttle buses and the cost of maintenance.
"Our number is based on our experience here," Levins said.
The airport staff recommended Republic, whose proposal received a slightly higher rating. But Louis Miller, the airport's executive director, said both companies are capable of doing the job.
The contract runs from July 1 to June 30, 2012.
The board also authorized the airport to study and design a light rail system and rail station serving the airport terminal. The consulting firm of Parsons, Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas will perform the study at a cost of $430,700.
The light rail project would be part of a regional transit system for the Tampa Bay area.
"When the region adopts a regional transit system, we have to make sure we're ready," Miller said. "More importantly, we have to define what won't work."
The study will be completed in September, Miller said.
The decision to move forward with a study is a giant step toward building a comprehensive mass transit system for Tampa, Iorio said.
"It's the first tangible piece of planning we have," she said.
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The new parking garage would increase the airport's garage spaces to 21,344.
Airport officials want the study, which is estimated to cost about $430,000, to be completed by Oct. 31, 2007.
The new terminal complex will be a mirror image of the landside terminal and four operating airsides that celebrated their 35th anniversary this month.
Both airport are keenly aware of competition for regional job creation that air service to major destinations, especially international cities, can attract and support.