The companies said a $200 annual charge could deter millions of people and some airports from signing up for the Registered Traveler program, which could begin in several airports this year.
In response, the TSA lowered to $30 from $100 the fee it plans to charge each person it approves to use Registered Traveler security lines. Travelers would pay an additional $80 or so a year to companies that enroll them, produce fingerprint-embedded ID cards and manage the lines at airports.
The total annual cost is now estimated at about $110. It could be $20 higher if the TSA requires a criminal background check in addition to the terrorism assessment it now plans for each Registered Traveler applicant.
TSA lowered the fee "based on further analysis and public feedback," spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said.
Tom Blank, head of a coalition of companies seeking to provide services for the Registered Traveler program, said the reduction opens the door to launching the program in 30 to 45 days.
"It should move very quickly," said Blank, a former top TSA official.
About 20 airports and airlines have applied to start Registered Traveler programs.
A company run by Court TV founder Steven Brill has started doing preliminary online registration for programs it wants to start at airports in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and San Jose, Calif., and at Terminal 7 at New York's Kennedy International Airport.
The TSA has not approved any airport to start the Registered Traveler program other than a pilot program at Orlando International Airport, in effect since July 2005.
Brill said it "really wasn't difficult to convince" the TSA to lower its fee during a meeting Wednesday with TSA chief Hawley that Brill said ran two hours. The TSA had wanted to charge $70 for personnel costs at Registered Traveler lines. Brill and others argued against any labor charge, saying Registered Traveler would not require any additional screeners.
"It makes a big difference," Brill said of the lower fee.
The TSA says people in Registered Traveler lines will see no change in how they are screened unless airports add new security measures.
For example, Brill's company is testing machines that could scan shoes while people are wearing them and use a fingerprint sample to determine if they've had contact with explosives.