AIRPORT GROUND TRANSPORTATION ASSOCIATION
The Airport Ground Transportation Association ( "AGTA" ) is a relatively old transportation association. Begun shortly after WWII, the first meeting of interested ground transportation operators was held at the Statler Hilton in Washington, D.C. on April 9, 1946. Shortly thereafter, AGTA was incorporated in the state of New York and had its first official meeting on October 2, 1946 in Room 3012, 420 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y. The original incorporation papers show the name of the association to be the Airlines Ground Transportation Association.
At this first official meeting, there were 21 members from across the United States and Canada (Murray-Hill Taxis of Montreal, for example). The founders of AGTA were the certificated ground transportation operators of their day. Some were taxi operators; others were bus operators; and some were limousine operators. What that had in common was that they represented the local transportation company that had the operating rights to serve the airports in each of their cities. They held, in most cases, the local and/or state certificates to operate to and from the growing airports.
Reviewing the minutes of these early meetings, it is obvious that these entrepreneurs were both offensive and defensive in their desire to establish an association of like members. Discussed at one of their first meetings was the proposal to establish a nationwide system of ground transportation operators in all major cities. These members would run the same vehicles, with the same paint scheme, operating procedures, and rate schedule. Interestingly, the common vehicle they were considering having built for the airport ground transportation industry was a 15 passenger, center aisle, “pusher” with plenty of baggage space. Greyhound Bus Lines was also a member and felt that the group could develop a national brand similar to their experience of setting up their national intercity bus system. Thus, while we now think of SuperShuttle and GO Group as being recent developments, the idea and intent was there many years before.
These business operators were also gathering to play defense against their “partner” airlines that, at the time, were pressing the now defunct Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to also regulate these operators from a national perspective. Opposing the CAB approach was the Airport Operators Council (AOC) which felt that ground transportation incidental to aircraft should not be regulated at the federal level – that it was a local matter. Interestingly, these early ground transportation operators and airport executives had common interests as far back as 1946.
As could be expected, these early AGTA members sided with the AOC – having a definite preference for maintaining their existing operating rights that were becoming more valuable as airline traffic grew. In a nutshell, the airlines wanted to contain and lower costs by gaining control over these ground transportation operators and their fares.
In tracing the early history of the Airlines Ground Transportation Association, it is evident that their relationships and contracts were with the airlines, but ones where they carried significant weight to the bargaining table. In many cities, these early AGTA members held the sole operating rights to provide ground transportation service to the airports – located far from the city center. The airlines definitely needed their services in order to compete with the heavily utilized passenger rail system. Often the airlines would have to guarantee a certain level of revenue for these operators, so it was understandable that they did not want airport ground transportation to be regulated nationally by the CAB.
Apparently it was a close call in Congress, but the push to have these operators come under the purview of the CAB waned and regulation of the carriers was left to the states and cities as a local or intrastate matter. During the latter part of the 1940’s this was a real an ongoing discussion of the AGTA.
Having settled the issue of who was to regulate airport ground transportation, and not being able to reach an agreement on a national airport ground transportation system, the need for and the intensity of AGTA was reduced somewhat and meetings were not held every year, but rather sporadically, through the 60s. Then, in 1969, the current member operators of the Airlines Ground Transportation attempted to revise the membership in the association by a cross-country tour visiting some of the major operators in the United States. Individuals, whose names are still known today, like Tom Meagher of Continental Air Transport, Harry Miller of West Palm Beach taxi, Jimmy Sinnett of Pittsburgh, or Bill McGee of Wilmington Shuttle. (Perhaps the nation’s first shared ride airport shuttle operator) encouraged like-minded operators to once more get involved in the AGTA. They reconstituted the association and somewhere between 1969 and 1971, they changed the name of the association from the Airlines Ground Transportation Association to the Airport Ground Transportation Association, or AGTA as we know it today.
first AGTA was run by the companies themselves, using their secretaries to provide the member invoicing and arrange meetings for the association. As the association activity grew somewhat, these operators decided to employ a part-time Executive Director, and Dr. Kenneth Heathington, then Director of the Center for Transportation at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was recruited.
From 1973 to 1976 the AGTA held two meetings per year under the direction of Dr. Heathington. In 1976, the Board accepted the resignation of Dr. Heathington at its January meeting, and after interviewing several candidates, retained the services of Dr. Ray Mundy to be the association’s Executive Director and his wife Sandy as Secretary/Treasurer. At the time, Dr. Mundy was the Associate Director of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Transportation.
The first fall meeting developed and attended by Dr. Mundy and Sandy was a joint meeting between the AGTA and The Transportation Center, beginning on Tuesday, September 21, 1976 at the Williamsburg 1776 Inn. That meeting was attended by only 18 members; the AGTA at that time consisted of 43 members, representing 32 firms and 11 associate members representing 8 firms.
In 1976 these AGTA operators were deeply concerned about the growth in publicly provided transportation, which threatened the existence of their private operations. They wondered how they could compete against tax supported public transit and were concerned about how unfair it was to the private operators. Aside from this overriding issue, the topics and discussions at the 1970’s meetings were not unlike those held at AGTA’s two current annual meetings. There were presentations on vehicles, labor issues, and insurance. Comparative statistics on operator labor costs, taxes, personnel categories, etc. were collected and shared with the membership.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these meetings was the structure. Meetings were held over a three-day period, just as they are today. However, meeting sessions were run only from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., or two and a half hours per day! Coincidentally, this was the same amount of time the IRS considered as a minimum for business meetings to be tax deductible. Delegates would reconvene for cocktails and dinner around 7:00 p.m. Most members had just come from their much larger (and heavy work schedule) meetings for the American Bus Association or the International Taxi Association and wanted the time in between morning meetings and dinner to play golf, canasta, or simply catch up with old friends.
During the late 70’s and 80’s however, the AGTA membership increased and the members wanted more sessions to make their time at the meetings more productive, and the format for these meetings gradually grew to what they are today – starting with breakfast and lasting throughout the day. Looking back, some members might consider this program expansion to be less than ideal.
Also, during the 70’s the newly constituted AGTA was approached by a group of ground transportation operators that served the Toronto, Canada, Pearson International Airport. These operators all provided service from a common desk at the airport and wished to become known as AGTA of Ontario. For a fee of one Canadian dollar, AGTA U.S. sold the name rights to AGTA of Ontario – a name that continues strongly today.
The composition of the AGTA also changed considerably starting in the 1980’s. The issues with the airlines was forgotten history as most ground transportation operators now dealt with their airports – developing their concession agreements and other operating procedures from them. More and more, at the AGTA meetings, airport operators were being invited to present at these meetings and participate with the operator members. In time, it became only natural for the Board of Directors of AGTA to create a new membership category – the airport member!
Over time, this airport member category has grown significantly to include most of the large and medium sized airports in North America. Also, the definition of airport ground transportation operator was expanded to include not just per capita operators but also contract carriers, parking and hotel shuttles, etc., any commercial or courtesy vehicle using the airport curb.
By the 1990’s this expanded membership of ground transportation operators, airports, vendors, and other public officials developed into a unique association where both the provider of ground transportation and the airport executives in charge of ground or landside transportation could meet and exchange views and ideas of best how to provide the amount and quality of ground transportation desired by the airline traveling public.
Today, AGTA is expanding once more to include all commercial users at the airport curb, whether per capita, or courtesy users, the management, planning, financing, and design of the modern airport curb and roadway users. The Association provides two conferences per year bringing together experts on various topics of interest and concern to its membership. The AGTA also provides its members with industry statistics, news, and policy statements on issues affecting all aspects of airport ground transportation. We invite ground transportation operators, airport officials, suppliers of industry vehicles, software, insurance, and others to join us in our primary mission – to improve the safe and efficient transfer of the airline traveling public to and from their airport.
The major change for AGTA and the airport ground transportation industry occurred in the second half of the decade, with the introduction of Transportation Network Companies, commonly referred to as TNCs. TNCs quickly became the major player at the airport curb, capturing up to 70% of more of the commercial passenger business at most North American airports. TNC membership in AGTA was quickly replacing taxi and shared ride van operations. A major causality of that era was the shared ride van operations in airport ground transportation. Hallmark names such as SuperShuttle, the leading airport shared ride van service in the U.S. shut down in December of 2020.
The pandemic was especially hard on airport ground
transportation services and airports.
Unlike the public sector airports, private ground transportation
operations received no direct set aside, or financial relief from the various
emergency spending bills of the U.S. Congress.
Airports, ground transportation service providers, and their suppliers all
lost up to 90% of their customers during the early months of the pandemic. Most of the drivers in the industry had
little choice but to apply for unemployment benefits as the pandemic lingered
AGTA, as an association, was also dramatically affected by
the pandemic. As a trade association
comprised of operators and airports, many of its members ceased operations and
others no longer had budgets for association membership dues. Even with this severe reduction in operating
income, AGTA continued to operate and even expanded its non-meeting operations
to include a weekly news roundup; a monthly editorial opinion summary of
industry events, and a bi-weekly zoom conference on issues of major interest to
The year 2021 brought new life to airline travel as the pandemic grip lessened and people were eager to once more travel about. Ground transportation operators energized efforts to rebuild their service offerings but faced the severe problem of rehiring drivers for the industry, still the major problem today. AGTA looks forward to resuming its primary function of bringing airports and ground operators together through two in-person meetings starting in 2022.