After a year of back-and-forth, state officials plan to charge ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft a $2.50 fee to drop off and pick up passengers at the Anchorage and Fairbanks airports.
Similar fees exist widely at other airports, including Juneau, though Uber and Lyft have protested the proposed fee as exorbitant. The companies typically pass the fees directly to passengers as a surcharge.
With the fee, set to take effect Feb. 1, state officials expect to plan for growth and make up for lost parking and rental car revenue, said Keith Day, controller for the Alaska International Airport System. He said officials see the fee as a fair access charge for commercial activity at the airport.
The fee comes as Alaska’s state and local governments wrangle with the new business model posed by ride-sharing companies, where passengers hail and pay for rides with a smartphone app. Alaska passed legislation to allow Uber and Lyft and other “transportation network companies” in 2017, becoming the last state in the nation to do so.
State officials first proposed a $3 fee for the Anchorage and Fairbanks airports a year ago. After hearing a wide range of comments, officials decided to drop the fee by 50 cents, Day said.
The process of setting the fee was “not really scientific,” Day said. The ride-sharing industry isn’t regulated, and the state has no idea how many Uber and Lyft vehicles come in and out of the airport, Day said. Officials primarily looked at what other airports were charging, Day said.
Whether and how the fee is passed directly to customers is up to Uber and Lyft, Day added.
In a joint January 2018 letter, Uber and Lyft said the Anchorage and Fairbanks airport fee would be outsized compared to similarly-sized airports. Airports in Flint, Michigan, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Santa Barbara, California, do not charge per-trip fees, the letter argued. Other airports, in Portland, Oregon, and Pittsburgh, charge less than $3 for pickups only, the letter said.
At large metropolitan airports, including San Diego and Denver, fees range from $2.15 to $2.75, The Washington Post reported. Washington, D.C., passengers pay an extra $4 for each ride.
A $2.50 fee in Anchorage and Fairbanks would be “high and unfair,” Lyft spokeswoman Kaelan Richards wrote in an email.
“We are disappointed that Alaska’s Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to propose such high fees for both pickups and drop offs -- costs that will ultimately impact customers and airport employees,” Richards wrote.
Lyft wants DOT to reconsider the rate, Richards said. Uber did not respond to a request seeking comment
State officials plan to take public comment on the change until the end of January.
At Juneau International Airport, Lyft already pays a $1.50 fee for drop-offs and pickups, said airport manager Patty Wahto. That fee has been in place several months. Uber recently signed a similar agreement, Wahto said.
The fees also stemmed from issues with revenue and fairness, Wahto said. The airport collects access fees for commercial activity. Taxis, limos and shuttles already pay fees, Wahto said.
“It is the platform for saying, ‘OK, Uber and Lyft are no different,’ ” Wahto said.
At the Anchorage airport, taxis pay $75 for an annual permit to access airport property. If the proposed $2.50 fee holds, an Uber driver who picks up and drops off passengers at the airport each day would catch up within a month.
Day acknowledged a Lyft or Uber driver may end up with far more than $75 in fees each year. But he said the companies are not technically taxicabs, and the airport isn’t required to charge equal rates.
“If they want to be taxicabs, they can get a taxi permit,” Day said.
Once the fee takes effect, the airport will be able to track rides using a location-based service, Day said. He said the data would help officials understand how the ride-sharing companies affect the airport. Because of congestion concerns, Uber and Lyft drivers are already restricted to the upper floor of the terminal, he said.
Officials plan to collect data for a year and adjust the fee as needed, Day said.
He couldn’t offer estimates for how much money might be raised. Fee revenue would stay at the airport and help manage future growth and congestion, Day said. He also said the airport has seen flat airport parking and rental car revenue the past year despite a rise in airline activity, which he said could be partially related to the popularity of Uber and Lyft.
So far, the fees haven’t led to a big windfall at the Juneau airport. The airport has netted between $113 and $133 each month from Lyft since the fee took effect, said Wahto, the manager.
But the fee took effect during Juneau’s slow season, between the bustle of summer and the legislative session, Wahto said. She said officials expect the pace to pick up once the session starts later this month.