Disney, Airport Reach Deal on Shuttle

Mar. 16--Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World officials agreed Wednesday to a plan that will keep Disney's popular Magical Express shuttle and baggage service -- which has attracted national attention -- running through 2011.

An analysis by an airport consultant found that the first-of-its-kind service caused the airport to miss out on $204,000 to $1.1 million last year because the free Disney shuttle impacted rental-car and other transportation revenues.

To even out the financial impact and ease concerns about overcrowding at the airport, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority voted to approve several key terms for the future:

Disney's per-passenger fee will increase from 50 cents to 75 cents beginning next year. From May through December of 2005, Disney paid the airport more than $500,000 and carried more than 1.1 million passengers. The fee could reach $1.50 in 2010.

Magical Express will relocate from the terminal's A side to the B side, where more bus parking spaces are available. Six spaces will be assigned to Magical Express.

If the service exceeds 2.2 million passengers, Disney will begin a second operation on the opposite end of the terminal's B side.

Disney's uniformed greeters -- minus their original oversized Mickey Mouse gloves -- will be allowed back on the terminal's second level to help passengers find their way. Last year, airport staff confined Disney's greeters to the first level.

Disney cannot establish any other similar shuttle and baggage services at other airports within 100 miles of Orlando International.

The agreement was several months in the making after Disney and OIA publicly clashed over the political and financial impacts of the service, which has drawn the interest of airports across the country.

"What we were able to do was say, 'Look, we have reached a bad situation from which everyone needs to recover,' " said Jeffry Fuqua, chairman of the airport authority. "Because the public loves the service, we need to try to make it work. On the other hand, we had issues for the airport that needed to try to be addressed."

The service began in May as a pilot program and was scheduled to end in December. Disney was under pressure to work out a deal so that it could begin to market its vacation packages for next year.

Walt Disney World President Al Weiss said he met with Fuqua several times and the two reached an agreement on the basic outline even though Disney's financial analysis of the service differs from the airport's.

"We think the overall deal is the right place to be; it's a fair deal for both the airport and for Disney," Weiss said.

Disney maintains that Magical Express will produce an estimated $3.65 in additional revenue per passenger for the airport once all the new terms are in place.

The airport analysis shows an estimated net gain of 15 cents to a loss of 30 cents per passenger.

Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty said the program brings several benefits to the community, including keeping cars off Central Florida's overcrowded roads.

No one from rental-car companies or other transportation services affected by Magical Express spoke at the meeting except for Owen Fraser of Beeline Ground Transportation.

By his calculations, Fraser said, Beeline is paying the airport $2.77 for the same service that is costing Disney 50 cents per passenger.

"This is not a happy camper," said Fraser, who says he did not know about the impending start of Magical Express last year when he signed a contract to be a minority provider of airport bus, van and shuttle service.

A group of independent limo and van drivers said after the meeting they were concerned that their businesses were not considered in the deal and forecast that they would continue to suffer a downturn as Magical Express grows.

"This thing was open and shut before it even occurred," said Michael McKenzie, who represents the Greater Orlando Livery Association. "They might as well not have had a meeting. It was just a formality."

Beth Kassab can be reached at bkassab@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5448.