When James Charles-Roberts booked a vehicle in May, he and his family were looking forward to a two-week vacation in Southern California.
After several attempts to visit Disneyland were thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the November vacation would be a chance for family in Victoria, British Columbia, to use their theme park tickets before they expire.
However, when Charles-Roberts called in June to move his reservation for a Ford Explorer to seven day-long passengers, the cost of car rental nearly tripled.
âI booked the vehicle for $ 480 and when I called to make a change the price was $ 1,286,â he said in an interview. “It was just a minor change so we decided to keep our first booking.”
Car rental shortage – or ‘carpocalypse’ as it is known in the United States – highlights what is expected to be a bumpy economic recovery as supply chain issues disrupt rental supply and demand of cars.
The problem started when nearly all travel was cut short at the onset of COVID-19 travel lockdowns and restrictions.
Car rental bookings have plummeted, prompting companies to dramatically reduce their fleets and lay off workers.
âMost, if not all of the car rental operators around the world have had to drastically reduce their fleets during the pandemic due to extreme reductions in consumer demand,â said Craig Hirota, vice president of government relations and member services of Associated Canadian Car Rental Operators.
“No one was traveling on vacation and business travel was virtually non-existent. This left a lot of unused vehicles on land.”
Now the situation is reversed. As the economy reopens and demand returns, a global semiconductor shortage has crippled vehicle production and caused long delays for new cars and trucks.
âThe car rental industry has not been able to restock its fleets,â Hirota said. “They just can’t get vehicles.”
Enterprise Holdings, the US parent company of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car, said the chip shortage “has impacted the availability and deliveries of new vehicles overall. of the sector at a time when demand is already high “.
The company added in an emailed statement that it was “working hard to secure additional vehicles to meet growing travel demand and meet the broader transportation needs of customers.”
In the meantime, car rental companies are increasing their prices in a context of tight supply and growing demand.
âI think there are definitely price increases,â Charles-Roberts said of his experience trying to change his vehicle reservation at the Los Angeles airport.
The industry-wide car rental crisis is already in full swing in the United States, where stories are emerging of tourists renting U-Haul moving vans or private vehicles from locals to get around.
The problem is expected to worsen in Canada this summer, especially in areas heavily dependent on tourism.
Many airports in east coast cities like Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John’s are near full on weekends this summer.
âThe impact is being felt everywhere – at least in tourism hot spots in Canada and the United States,â Gary Howard, senior vice president of marketing and communications at CAA Atlantic, said in an email.
âMost of the fleets are leased, so during the peak of COVID the fleets were dwindling,â he said. “Now it is coming back, but the car rental companies cannot collect enough vehicles from the fleets.”
While the car rental shortage is expected to be felt more severely in tourist destinations, prices are on the rise across the country.
Hamilton resident Allyson Rowley said she often hires cars for long-distance trips and to visit family.
In 2019, she said she typically paid around $ 30 a day, an amount that jumped to around $ 40 in 2020. But Rowley said she had just booked a car for two weeks in August and the price was $ 61.52 per day.
âThe cost has doubled since before the pandemic,â she said. “I made the ethical and financial choice not to own a car, because I mostly walk and cycle and only rent a car when I need it, but it is getting unaffordable.”
For travelers hoping to hire a car this summer, experts say it’s essential to book early, look beyond airports, and be prepared to pay more than usual.
It may also require alternatives to car rental, such as carpooling or public transport, as they say the shortage is not expected to ease anytime soon.
âIf you are planning to travel, we encourage you to reserve a vehicle as early as possible,â Enterprise Holdings said. âProviding flexible travel dates and in-branch pickup locations in your search can help expand your options. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 6, 2021.
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