Phoenix City Council again approves controversial Uber/Lyft airport fees

Dec 18, 2019, 4:07 PM | Updated: 8:31 pm
Phoenix City Council...
(KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)
(KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)

PHOENIX – Despite abandonment threats from Uber and Lyft and the potential for legal challenges, the Phoenix City Council on Wednesday reaffirmed its decision to impose controversial pickup and drop-off fees at Sky Harbor International Airport.

In a 7-2 vote, the council approved a phased-in increase from the current $2.66 fee to $5 for curbside pickups and a new phased-in $5 charge for drop-offs. Councilmen Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring voted no both times.

The fees charged to ride-hailing companies such as Lyft and Uber will begin Feb. 1, 2020, at $4 for each trip to and from the airport and increase 25 cents per year until reaching $5 in 2024.

All fees in the proposal will apply at a 30% lower rate to pickups and drop-offs at the 44th Street PHX Sky Train station and the 24th Street station under construction.

The plan was designed in part to reduce the number of vehicles at the terminals and encourage use of the free Sky Train, according to the city’s aviation department. It’s also intended to cover transportation infrastructure costs at the airport.

Opponents have been making plenty of noise since the need for a second vote was announced Oct. 22.

The revote was required because of an administrative error prior to the initial vote Oct. 16, when it passed 7-2.

DiCiccio saw the mistake as an opportunity for opponents to continue fighting the fees.

“Now the taxpayers and the citizens of the city of Phoenix get to have one more bite of the apple where they can tell the politicians to listen to the voice of the public and not pass this tax increase,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM at the time.

On Nov. 4, Lyft informed the city it would no longer provide service to and from Sky Harbor if the fees were enacted.

Uber announced similar plans five days before Wednesday’s revote.

In a statement, Uber said it would cease operations at the airport next month.

“We are disappointed the Phoenix City Council has chosen to once again hand down a fee increase on the most popular form of transportation at Phoenix Sky Harbor: ridesharing,” Uber said in a statement. “Our riders and drivers should not be treated as a piggybank to fill the Airport’s budget holes. This fee unfairly penalizes those who rely on ridesharing to get to or from PHX by asking them to bear a disproportionate share of costs associated with the Sky Train.

“On behalf of the riders and drivers who rely on Uber, we cannot accept a partnership that unfairly burdens our shared passengers.”

If the companies don’t follow through on their threats, it will be up to them whether to eat the cost of the new fees or pass them along to riders or drivers.

In addition to the threat of lost airport ride services, council members also had to weigh the possibility of legal challenges.

On Dec. 3, the Goldwater Institute, a conservative Arizona think tank, warned the city the proposal could violate a state ban on new taxes or tax increases on services.

The ban was added to the Arizona Constitution through Proposition 126, which passed by a 65%-36% margin in 2018.

Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches repeated his admonition during Wednesday’s council meeting.

City officials and legal staff, however, maintained that the fees are rent for using the property, not taxes.

Republican state Rep. Nancy Barto echoed the Goldwater Institute’s sentiments Dec. 5, saying she would ask the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether the fees, if enacted, violated the state constitution.

The approved proposal also alters fees for other modes of ground transportation at the airport.

Taxis, which currently are charged $2.66 for pickups and nothing for drop-offs, will now be assessed $1.75 for each.

The fee for shuttles (9-23 seats) will change from $3.48 for pickups to $2.25 each for pickups and drop-offs.

Rates for charter buses (24-plus seats) are going from $7.38 for pickups to $5.00 each for pickups and drop-offs.

Taxi, shuttle and charter bus fees will increase at an annually adjusted rate.

Vehicles powered by alternative fuels will get a 10% discount on all of the airport transportation fees, and zero-emissions vehicles will get a 40% reduction.

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Phoenix City Council again approves controversial Uber/Lyft airport fees