December 18, 2019

Today, the Phoenix City Council blatantly ignored the Arizona Constitution and the will of the voters when it approved a massive fee increase on people who use ride-share services to travel to and from Sky Harbor Airport. Both Uber and Lyft previously announced they would halt service to the airport if the fees were approved.

Earlier today, Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches testified before the Phoenix City Council about why the fee increase is unconstitutional and spoke about the impact the fees would have on citizens. Riches’ statement is included below:

Setting aside all the policy reasons the Council should decline to impose these new fees—and there are plenty—if the Council votes to move ahead with this proposal, it would be violating Arizona’s Constitution and the will of the many voters who amended it. 

It has not even been a year since Arizona voters overwhelming passed Proposition 126, which amended Arizona’s Constitution.  The plain and unambiguous language of that provision prohibits “any city in Arizona” from “impos[ing] or increase[ing] anyfee…on…any service performed in this state.”

Goldwater Director of National Litigation Jon Riches testifies before Phoenix City Council on December 18, 2019.

There are two questions then: (1) is the City increasing an existing fee, or imposing a new one; and (2) is that fee on a service? The answer to both questions is obviously yes. 

The City is increasing the current pick up fee at Sky Harbor from $2.66 to $5.00 by 2024 and it is imposing an entirely new drop off fee of $5.00 by 2024. 

The City itself has described these new and increased charges as “fees,” both in the City Council Report, and in the City Code this proposal seeks to amend.

These new fees are also plainly being assessed on a service in this state. Both the provision and operation of ride-sharing platforms and the act of driving passengers are both services.  Indeed, state law already defines both activities as services.  See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 28-9551(3)-(4).    

Now, I have heard in defense of these increased and new fees that despite the City calling them “fees,” they are not really “fees.” They are instead something akin to rent for the privilege of using Sky Harbor’s curbside.

That argument is so phenomenally foolish as to hardly warrant a serious response. Are college students who carpool to Sky Harbor renting curbside space? Does every time someone takes an Uber or Lyft to the courthouse or this council building renting curbside space? 

Of course not.  And if you believe they are, then these are precisely the types of actions Proposition 126 was intended to prevent.        

You may not like the Proposition 126. You may wish the language in our constitution was different. You may really claim to need this money from taxpayers. All of that is irrelevant. The law is what it is. The Constitution says what it says. 

Make no mistake: If you pass this proposal, you will not only be putting in place one of the worst, most punishing, policies the City has considered. You will be behaving illegally. You will have to explain to your constituents—most of them low- and middle-income—why you want to harm them for getting a ride to the airport. And why you did so in blatant disregard of the Constitution.

And no doubt, you will have to do the very same explaining to a judge. 

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