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State lawmaker files legal challenge to Phoenix airport Uber/Lyft fees

(Getty Images Photo/Spencer Platt)

PHOENIX – A day after the Phoenix City Council approved new fees on Uber and Lyft rides at Sky Harbor International Airport, a state lawmaker carried out her threat to legally challenge the move Thursday.

Meanwhile, the two ride-hailing companies reiterated their plans to stop carrying passengers to and from the airport following Wednesday’s vote.

Two weeks after first saying she would file what’s known as an SB 1487 complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office if the proposal passed, Rep. Nancy Barto said she did just that.

The north Phoenix Republican’s complaint requires the attorney general to investigate whether the new fees violate the state constitution.

Barto and other opponents have made the case that the fees violate an amendment approved by voters in 2018 that bans new taxes or tax increases on services.

During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, officials said the fees weren’t taxes, but were rent for using city property at the airport, an explanation Barto called “ridiculous.”

“Are you renting the space in front of your business when you’re dropped off anywhere else outside of Sky Harbor? That’s ridiculous,” Barto told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos in the Afternoon. “Nobody in their right mind would make that connection.”

Phoenix could lose its share of state revenue, a third of its general fund budget, if the fee hike is found to be illegal.

After the vote, Uber said in a statement that it would halt its service at the Phoenix airport sometime next month.

“Our riders and drivers should not be treated as a piggybank to fill the airport’s budget holes,” the statement said. “On behalf of the riders and drivers who rely on Uber, we cannot accept a partnership that unfairly burdens our shared passengers.”

Lyft said it was stopping operations at Sky Harbor “ahead of the fee implementation in order to prevent the unfair penalization of our drivers.”

Lyft spokesman Lauren Alexander didn’t provide specifics but said her company has ceased service in the past “when we believe rules, regulations or fees create unavoidable threat to the health of our business.”

Sky Harbor has said it will not directly charge the increases to drivers or passengers, but Uber and Lyft have indicated the fees could be passed on to them.

Wednesday’s vote was the second on the proposal. A revote was required because administrative error invalidated a 7-2 approval Oct. 16.

Nobody’s minds were changed in the interim, as the proposal again passed 7-2.

Starting Feb. 1, 2020, Lyft and Uber will be charged $4 for curbside pickups and drop-offs. The rate will increase 25 cents a year until hitting $5 in 2024.

Currently, ride-hailing companies are charged $2.66 for pickups and there is no fee for drop-offs.

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.

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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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