Ahead of a Dec. 18 meeting where the Phoenix City Council will, after a clerical mishap, again vote on whether to raise fees on ride-share companies using the airport, Lyft has written a letter saying it will leave Sky Harbor if the vote passes.
The letter, dated Nov. 4, was copied to Mayor Kate Gallego and Phoenix Aviation Advisory Board Chair Leezie Kim.
In the letter, Bakari Brock, senior director of Lyft Business, wrote that the company was disappointed by the council’s decision to move forward with a proposal that Lyft feels singles out ride-share companies and “unfairly burdens our customers with budget shortcomings for maintaining and operating the PHX Sky Train.”
“We have reviewed our options at Sky Harbor and, without an alternative path forward, we are obligated to prevent the unfair penalization of our drivers and riders by ceasing operations at the airport January 2020.”
How much the fee might increase
The city council voted 7 to 2 during its Oct. 16 meeting to increase the fee to help offset the cost of maintaining infrastructures such as roads, curbs and the Sky Train.
But, because of a clerical error, the proposed increase was not posted on the city’s website for the required 60-day time period. So, the council must vote on the measure again at its Dec. 18 meeting.
If approved, the fee for ride-share drop-offs and pick-ups at the airport would increase to $4 starting Jan. 1. Each year after that, the fee would increase by 25 cents, reaching $5 in 2024.
Riders who choose to be picked up or dropped off at the 44th Street Sky Train station would receive a discount on the fee to $2.80 each way.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who opposes the proposed rate hike, made the letter public in a tweet Monday morning. In subsequent tweets, he accused the airport of hiding the letter from the public.
“Phoenix politicians are about to stick it to the public once again,” DiCiccio wrote in a Facebook post that he also tweeted.
“They need to realize that this is going to hurt the City of Phoenix at a national level, it will hurt the public, and it will hurt small business owners that rely on rideshare,” DiCiccio wrote in urging council members to reconsider during the next vote.
Sky Harbor responds
Sky Harbor Aviation Director Jim Bennett responded to Lyft on Nov. 6, pushing back on some of its allegations, such as calling the fee a tax. The airport considers it a fee for using the airport infrastructure.
“If you choose to cease operations at Sky Harbor we will do our utmost to assist in directing passengers to other services available. Again, we are happy to meet again and explain further if necessary,” Bennett wrote.
When reached by email Monday, airport spokeswoman Heather Shelbrack told The Republic that airport staff met with representatives from Uber and Lyft on Nov. 12 to discuss Bennett’s letter.
She characterized the meeting as one to elaborate on the airport’s position, not a negotiation of the results of the Ground Transportation Committee’s year-long study and subsequent fee recommendations.
Concerning DiCiccio’s frustration that the letter wasn’t shared with members of the city council, Shelbrack said the airport has been working on this issue for more than a year and has a “tremendous amount of correspondence back and forth.”
“While we don’t email every piece of communication we engage in during the course of our daily work, everything is public record and always available,” Shelbrack said.
Lyft’s statement about its letter
In an email to The Republic, Lyft spokeswoman Lauren Alexander had this to say about Lyft’s position:
“We have reviewed our options at Sky Harbor and believe we are obligated to prevent the unfair penalization of our drivers and riders. They should not have to shoulder the burden of the city’s budget shortcomings for the Sky Train — a capital improvement project that is unrelated to their choice of transportation. We are currently engaged in ongoing conversations with airport leadership and we are hopeful we will be able to come to a more equitable solution before the fee goes into effect in January.”
She did not address questions about whether pulling out of Sky Harbor would create a significant loss of income for Lyft drivers or if the company was concerned that drivers could move to Uber.
Uber weighs in
Uber also voiced concern about the proposed fee increase and said it was considering its options. Stephanie Sedlak, a spokeswoman for Uber, said in an emailed statement:
“We’ve attempted to hold productive conversations with the airport and city of Phoenix to demonstrate how the egregious rideshare fee increase is unfair to Uber riders and drivers, and how increased costs can hurt families across the Valley who rely on Uber to make money, or need a convenient, affordable ride to the airport. As we’ve stated previously, we support paying our fair share, but this fee increase is out of line. We are strongly considering all options should this fee pass on December 18.”
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