January 24, 2020
By Jon Riches

If you’ve ever taken an Uber or Lyft to the airport, you know that it’s a convenient and affordable transportation option. For passengers going to and from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, however, it’s an option that may soon be gone, if the Phoenix City Council has its way. But the Goldwater Institute is stepping in and standing up for ride-share passengers and drivers.

The Goldwater Institute has filed a motion with the Arizona Supreme Court on behalf of ride-sharing drivers and passengers to join a case challenging the constitutionality of the city of Phoenix’s fee raises on ride-sharing services at Sky Harbor Airport.  

The city has caused chaos for the many travelers that rely on ride-sharing at Sky Harbor Airport, and the drivers who service the airport, since it announced that it was going to increase fees on airport trips by some 200%. 

The Phoenix City Council passed these new fees despite warnings from the Goldwater Institute that doing so was not only horrendous policy but also violates the plain language of the Arizona Constitution, which was overwhelmingly amended by voters last year to prohibit any new or increased fees on services performed in the state. 

The city’s action had immediate consequences. After it passed the fee increases, the major ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, announced that they were pulling out of Sky Harbor. 

This left ride-sharing drivers, who rely on airport trips as a reliable source of income, with a major threat to their businesses. Drivers like Paul Rowe. Paul has been an Arizona resident for over 32 years. He started driving on the Uber and Lyft platforms to productively fill his time after his long-time partner passed away. Paul has a near-perfect rating from Uber and Lyft riders. A retiree, Paul also now relies on his ride-sharing earnings as supplemental income. “Uber and Lyft provide affordable rates with prompt, courteous, and timely service to the airport.” He continues, “The potential loss of these services, or a major increase in their cost, will result in lost income for drivers and a major inconvenience to the traveling public.”

Ride-sharing riders have also been stung by the city’s illegal fee increases. Mackenzie Semerad is a 27-year-old frequent business traveler. She uses ride-sharing to get to and from Sky Harbor at least twice a month. “Ride-sharing has been the most convenient, most affordable way to get to the airport for years,” Mackenzie says. “I don’t feel safe or comfortable in taxis, and parking can be extremely expensive, particularly on long, international trips. The city just doesn’t seem to care that its action will affect countless Arizonans and the many people travelling to this state,” Mackenzie continues.

The Goldwater Institute is representing Paul, Mackenzie, and other ride-sharing drivers and passengers. They are now seeking to intervene in an action pending before the Arizona Supreme Court. 

Ride-share driver Paul Rowe meets with Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches.

Following a complaint from Representative Nancy Barto, a state lawmaker, the Attorney General launched an investigation of the legality of Phoenix’s fee increases. 

The Attorney General agreed with the Goldwater Institute that the fee increases “very likely violate” the Arizona Constitution and immediately filed a case in the Supreme Court to get the increases set aside.

After that case was filed, the city backed off its original plan to impose the fees starting on February 1, instead electing to wait on the outcome of the legal proceedings. 

Now, the Supreme Court will review the merits of the case. The Goldwater Institute has asked the court to allow our ride-sharing clients to join the case and offer additional evidence and argument as to why the city’s actions violate the constitution and harm ride-sharing drivers and passengers. 

Since the inception of this fight, the city has ignored its citizens, ignored the serious consequences its policy has imposed on the state, and ignored the law. 

With intervention from the Goldwater Institute, we are hopefully it can no longer ignore those parties who have been most directly harmed by its illegal actions. 

Jon Riches is the Director of National Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.

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