Port of Miami continues move toward unitary service fee; Commissioner Gimenez questions why
By Risa Polansky
The Port of Miami is moving toward charging cruise lines a unitary service fee, a step port and cruise officials agree is the best course for business.
But one commissioner fears it could hurt the port in the end.
The county's Airport and Seaport Committee last week gave the nod to allow the county to facilitate security at Royal Caribbean Cruises' terminals.
The port began the first phase of the unitary fee with Royal Caribbean in January, bundling existing tariffs for dockage, wharfage, water and harbor into a $9.86 charge per embarking and disembarking passenger.
Phase two is to provide terminal security.
The third step will be to establish a pool of stevedoring companies whose charges would be included in the unitary fee. Those contracts are expected to come to the commission late this summer.
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez questioned the moves.
"Why are we doing this?" he asked. "Why do we want to have a unitary fee? That's the concern that I have. When the unitary fee may not work all that well at the airport because it makes us look like we're more expensive than other airports, why do we want to do the same thing with the seaport when our competitors don't have a unitary fee?"
But some do.
Port Director Bill Johnson said the local port is working toward establishing a unitary fee "to remain competitive."
Port Everglades in Broward County "offers something very similar to this," he said.
Royal Caribbean has "requested this. Norwegian Cruise Lines is right behind them… it's an industry trend."
Still, Mr. Gimenez was skeptical.
"Why would a company want to incur additional costs over what they could provide the services for by themselves?" he asked.
Mr. Johnson said the change should not increase costs for the cruise lines or for the port.
Dustin Nason, manager of port operations for Royal Caribbean, said it "mechanically, financially and operationally makes it easier for us to manage the relationship if multiple services are offered by one vendor — in this case, the port."
Royal Caribbean has similar arrangements with ports such as Everglades, Galveston and Southampton and is in discussion with others.
"This is a trend we'd like to pursue as a mechanism to bundle one fee to be able to offer to the passengers where we are able to have not only our security fees but some of the other fees that are provided by the port under one fee," Mr. Nason said.
The security deal, pending full commission approval, would involve the county facilitating security at the Royal Caribbean terminals through current provider McRoberts Protective Agency, rather than the cruise line contracting with McRoberts directly.
Royal Caribbean is to pay, in addition to $4 million for security services, a $150,000 administrative fee to cover the port's staffing costs.
Hiring McRoberts is to be a stopgap until the port creates a pool of security service firms that cruise lines can use to choose a provider through a competitive process.
Before the final vote on the security deal, Mr. Gimenez asked to see cost comparisons with other ports.
"I don't want to get into a position where we've found ourselves with the airport," he said, "where our landing fees, etc., are elevated because we're a full-service airport, and then when you look up the road to Fort Lauderdale, their landing fees are a lot less because the airlines there provide a lot of their own services."
The full commission is to consider the security agreement June 30.