published on May 12, 2017 - 12:01 PM
Written by David Castellon

Some members of the Fresno City Council made it abundantly clear earlier this month their displeasure over a proposal to charge Uber and Lyft drivers fees for dropping off and picking up passengers at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

And those comments resonated with airport officials who had recommended the $3 fee for “transition network companies” (TNCs) — Uber and Lyft — so much that they don’t plan to go forward with a separate proposal to propose similar new fees for taxis, hotel shuttles and commercial limousine companies — at least for now.

“Now we’ve kind of shut that process down,” Kevin Meikel, director of aviation for the city-run airport, said of any further proposals to initiate drop-off and pick-up fees, which are common among most large and mid-sized commercial airports in the country.

But Meikel said that after a year or possibly a few years, he may come back to the council with a modified proposal for drop-off and pick-up fees.

If that does happen, Meikel said he first would try to negotiate with taxi, TNCs and hotel businesses to come up with a fee plan they can support.

“In a perfect world, we want everybody on the same page,” and then present that to the council, he said.

And addressing the ground transportation fee issue is important because airports cover their operating costs, growth and renovations with user fees, and transportation businesses operating at the airport should pay their fair share, said Meikel.

He added that the alternative is charging more to airlines, which might choose not to have stops Fresno if their fees get too high, or charging more for parking, which Meikel said he would prefer not to do, as Fresno already has the lowest long-term parking fee for an airport its size in the state.

Meikel noted that as far as he knows, Fresno-Yosemite is the only mid-sized airport in California not charging drop-off and pick-up fees to transport businesses.

“At the end of the day, the airport has costs it does need to cover,” he said. “We don’t want to overburden any one user. We want to balance it out.”

But many in the ground transport businesses say it’s so hard to drum up business in and around the Fresno area that adding fees for airport trips would significantly hurt their bottom lines.

“As far as I can tell, nobody wanted it. We already make little in Fresno,” because too many people are signing up to drive for online driving services here, said Vanessa Gowett of Fresno, who drives for both Uber and Lyft.

She said an average run to Fresno Yosemite usually nets her $13 — after Uber and Lyft take their fees — and having to pay a $3 fee would net her only $10, “And that’s not worth it. I live 25 minutes away from the airport.

“I am glad the Fresno City Council voted this down,” added Julie Treadaway O’Brien of Oakhurst, a driver for Uber and Lyft who said her last two airport runs netted her only $4 and $7.

“If I had to pay $3 plus expenses, it might cost me money to pick up people at their airport.”

“Maybe if there was more tipping it would be worth it,” but Uber tells customers that tips are included in their charges, Gowett said. “If drivers had an extra fee for dropping off at the airport, I think drivers would stop doing airport runs altogether.”

Or they might “reroute,” not driving onto the airport but instead dropping off or picking up passengers down the street, so they would have to walk to the airline terminals, said Jessica Waller of Fresno, a Lyft driver
“That is the general opinion across the Facebook,” she said, noting the discussions on a Facebook page for Fresno-area Uber and Lyft drivers.

Citing the added costs to TCN drivers, members of the Fresno City Council voted 5-1 on April 6 to oppose the fee increase, with Steve Brandau being absent and Paul Caprioglio casting the only no vote.

Before that vote, those council member in opposition of the proposal to amend the city’s master fee schedule voiced their opinions, with council president Clint Olivier saying that it would amount to an added, burdensome tax.

“My problem is that we are adding another fee on them, which will make it difficult for drivers,” said Councilman Garry Bredefeld.

Dan Weber, assistant manager for aviation for Fresno Yosemite airport, said the fees were requested to make up for lost parking revenues resulting from people getting rides through Uber or Lyft, in which rides can be requested online, using computers, tablets and cell phones.

Under questioning by the council members, he explained that airport officials did a study going back to 2013 looking at airport parking fees and the number of people coming through the airport and estimated that on average, about 3,000 drop offs by Uber and Lyft drivers occur there monthly, and each of those trips cost the airport an average of $4.64 in lost parking fees.

Weber said officials also looked at fees for such drivers at other airports and settled on $3, as that appeared to be the going rate and because it would be less financially burdensome on the TNCs than charging the full $4.64.

That would have put anticipated revenues from the proposed Fresno Yosemite airport fee at about $108,000 a year.

“This is not a fee to the passenger or the driver. This is a fee to the corporation,” Lyft or Uber, Weber noted to the council members.

But Olivier was quick to counter that claim, saying “That money comes from the average person – the poor slob that needs to get to his mother’s funeral” who would be charged more for airport rides if the fee is imposed.

“That doesn’t come from rich money bags,” said Olivier, who later apologized to Weber for him and some of the other council members putting him in the “shooting gallery” with their comments opposing the fee.

Navinder Gil said that in the case of taxi drivers, like himself, the owners and independent operators would take the financial hits, as the city sets the fees they charge, regardless of whether they have added expenses.

And if the city were to allow taxis to charge more, he said, “Nobody’s going to take the taxis,” because they would become even less competitive with Lyft and Uber, whose drivers don’t incur as many fees as taxi drivers — a bitter point of contention on the industry.

“Of course it’s going to hurt,” he said of airport fees.

Meikel said that an average 300-350 taxis pick up and drop off at the airport every month.

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