February 21, 2020
By Nathan Callahan

If the Phoenix City Council has its way, it may soon be a lot more expensive to take an Uber of Lyft to or from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport—but the Goldwater Institute is speaking out against this municipal power grab.

In a recent appearance on Liberty Watch Radio, Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches talked about the importance of keeping municipal government in check, especially in light of the City Council’s recent attempt to quadruple ride-sharing fees at Phoenix Sky Harbor. “Particularly at the local level, particularly with municipalities, they really don’t care about popular opinion, they really don’t care where the citizens are at. They’re gonna do what they want to do,” Riches noted. While there is an existing fee of $2.66 on rideshare pickups at the airport, the city of Phoenix has decided to both raise the existing ride-share fee and create a new fee for dropping off at the airport.

The city claims that part of this fee will be used to maintain the ride-sharing infrastructure at Sky Harbor, but Riches explained that “the vast majority of it was going to the Skytrain which, of course, no one who is using an Uber or a Lyft was accessing the Skytrain. They had improperly budgeted that, were looking for a money grab, and they found that with the popular ride-sharing services.” The city is now passing its $740 million worth of poor planning decisions down to people just trying to get an inexpensive ride to the airport. Not only does the city appear to be passing along the cost of the Skytrain’s operation and expansion to people trying to get to the airport, but it has also failed to raise fees on taxis who use the same curbs and roads as ride-sharing vehicles.

The most egregious offense in this situation, however, is the fact that the city of Phoenix’s new fee is in direct violation of Prop 126, which passed with strong voter support in 2018. “It did a really simple thing by saying that no city, or the state, can increase existing fees or impose new fees on any service that’s offered in Arizona. Of course, this was an increase of an existing fee and the imposition of a new fee, so it violated the very plain language of Arizona law,” Riches said. By raising the pick-up fee to $4 and creating a new $4 drop-off fee (both of which will go up to $5 in 2024), the city of Phoenix has directly violated both provisions of Prop 126 and doubled the price of an average Lyft ride, which currently costs just $10.

In the interview, Riches observed that local governments can often be the worst abusers of government power, combining a lack of constitutional authority and strong influence from local interest groups that can often result in government decision-making that ignores the sentiments of the general public. Hopefully, Riches said, “the Arizona Supreme Court will read the Constitution to mean what it says and strike down the city of Phoenix’s illegal activity and in doing so, create some very favorable precedent for the taxpayers of this state so that when the city of Phoenix, [or] the city of Tucson tries to do something like this again, they’ll say ‘Oh, yup. There’s that Supreme Court case out there and we can’t do that.’” As a result of this case, municipal governments may think twice before raising and creating unconstitutional fees in the future.

You can listen to the full interview with Riches here.

Nathan Callahan is a Ronald Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute.

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