Heather Rusden rushed to book a hire car that would allow her to travel to Tasmania to see family members she’d been apart from since the pandemic began.
- Many hire car companies sold about half their fleet during the COVID-19 shutdown.
- Now there is a shortage of cars available and prices have significantly increased
- The federal and state governments are being asked to help solve the problem
She didn’t expect there to be none available until the end of January; and beyond then, be asked to pay $2,000 for seven days.
“I’ve gone through each and every individual rental car company in Tasmania and they’re completely booked out from now until mid-January,” she said.
“We’ve given up, we’ve tried all our resources. There’s nothing really that we’re able to do now.”
Her family members are scattered across Tasmania, which is notorious for not having an accessible public transport network.
“Travelling between them, it’s just not feasible without a car,” she said.
“A lot of Tasmania doesn’t have a lot of public transport, especially where our family and friends are.”
While this doesn’t put her off from making the trip from Melbourne, it leaves her reliant on borrowing other peoples’ cars.
“Obviously since March we haven’t been able to come home and see our family, so Christmas was our time to really get together again, celebrate the year we’ve just managed to get through,” she said.
“We’ll still be planning a trip home but things will be restricted.
“There’s no other option but to buckle up, enjoy the time home with the family and hopefully borrow mum’s car when I can.”
Platypus Park Country Retreat owner Gina Scott said recently people had been booking the retreat, then cancelling, leaving her wondering “what’s going on, that’s not normal”.
“Just recently, bookings have been flowing through, and we thought, ‘oh, this is looking very strong for summer after a very weak year’,” she said.
“And then, all of a sudden, people just started booking and then cancelling.
“So we investigated a little bit further and found the reasons were because people couldn’t get any hire cars.”
She’s been in the business for 27 years and this has happened just once before.
“Only in the very early stages, when hire car companies weren’t quite geared up in Tasmania,” she said.
Companies sold fleet off during COVID-19
The difficulty in renting hire cars is the result or many companies selling off their fleet when the pandemic started.
Luke Martin from the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania said while that was a “sensible business decision” at the time, the state now had about 50 per cent fewer hire cars.
“So, what we’ve been left with is a significantly reduced pool of cars in the state,” he said.
He said many people had booked their accommodation and flights to Tasmania, but were left with “the missing piece of the puzzle” — a vehicle to take them around the state.
“There is no quick fix unfortunately, so what we’re just going to do is try and encourage people to look at other ways to get around the state,” he said.
The council is urging the State Government to reduce the cost of stamp duty and registration to help hire car companies buy more vehicles.
Ms Rusden said the quotes she was given for the end of the summer were “extremely expensive”.
The vice president of one of the hire companies — Hertz Asia Pacific — said the Tasmania branch was operating with a much smaller number of vehicles, but that the prices were on par with previous years.
“Rental rates in Tasmania are similar to previous years but are higher over the short Tasmanian peak season compared to the lower off-season rates,” Eoin MacNeill said.
The Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania said there had been “some suggestion” of people hiring out their private vehicles to help fill the void in the market.
CEO Trent Sayers urged anyone who considered the option to check their insurance policy first.
“Typically an insurance policy for private use doesn’t allow hiring or letting out of the car unless you talk to your insurer about it,” he said.
“Potentially claims could be reduced or denied on the basis of your vehicle being used for that purpose.”
The State Government said it was engaging with the hire car sector to better understand its challenges.
Asked if the Government would make it easier for tourists to carry their own vehicles across the Bass Strait, Premier Peter Gutwein said: “We’d always like to see the freight equalisations scheme extended but we’re working closely with TT-Line in terms of what options might be available there.”