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PortMiami renegotiates terminal deals, local workers brace for more cruise-less months

Taylor Dolven, Miami Heral on

Published in Business News

Meanwhile thousands of workers who supported the cruise industry in South Florida are waiting.

"We live off tourism"

On a recent week day, Sanaa Ghorab carefully folded the windshield shade of her 33-passenger bus, parked on a vacant lot in Brownsville since mid-March. It's good to turn the buses on every once in a while, she said, while they aren't being used.

At just five feet tall, Ghorab, 44, has a deep laugh and quick wit. The mother of two is the friendly face cruise passengers see when they leave their ships, usually very early in the morning, and look for a way to get to the airport or to a hotel. She wears a big smile and a port ID, advertising her $10 to MIA, $15-20 to Fort Lauderdale airport fare, a price agreed upon between passenger motor carrier competitors.

Ghorab built up her shuttle business, VIP Shuttle, over the past two decades. In March she was operating two 14-passenger vans and three 33-passenger buses. Sometimes she drove; other times her two part-time employees -- one a University of Miami professor, the other a FedEx driver -- were in the driver's seat. She netted enough to support her husband and their two sons.

On March 9, the day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to avoid cruise travel, Ghorab was out at the port, helping concerned passengers get home. On March 16, she shuttled hotel guests to the port, where the cruise companies handed out letters informing them that the industry had shut down. That was her last day of work.

 

Her two vans have been parked at her Miami Springs house ever since. She's paying to park the three buses at the lot in Brownsville. She hasn't seen either of her employees in months.

When she thought cruising would return in July, she avoided applying for unemployment benefits after hearing the horror stories of Florida's sluggish system -- one of the slowest in the country. Now, she's reconsidering applying.

"I have a good amount saved, but if the cruise ship industry changes, what's going to happen to me?" she said. "We'll have to sell the vehicles then. The cases don't keep going down, they keep going up in Florida."

Working at the port hasn't been easy.

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