Lambert commission endorses $3 pickup, dropoff fees for ride-hailing firms

Ride-hailing firms would pay a $3 fee for each passenger pickup or drop-off at St. Louis Lambert International Airport under a plan endorsed Wednesday by the city Airport Commission.

The plan, submitted by Mayor Lyda Krewson’s administration after weeks of talks with industry leaders Uber and Lyft, still needs approval by the city’s top fiscal body — the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. The board is to meet Aug. 16.

The airport panel backed the plan on a voice vote after about an hour of debate. Two members — Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Alderman Marlene Davis — complained that it would be unfair to taxi companies and could hurt their businesses.

“We are affecting 180 small-business owners,” Davis said, referring to taxi firms and drivers.

Deputy City Counselor Michael Garvin told the commission that Lyft has agreed to the proposed fees but that Uber has yet to do so.

An Uber spokeswoman, Charity Jackson, said in an email that Uber was reviewing the plan but that “we hope to soon serve both residents and visitors” at Lambert.

The $3 fee would apply to every Lambert trip, no matter how many passengers are in the vehicle. The plan also calls for ride-hailing companies to pay a $15,000 fee to Lambert every two years.

A state law effective Aug. 28 exempts ride-hailing firms from local regulations such as those that the city-county Taxicab Commission tried to impose.

The Missouri Legislature, however, made an exception for Lambert, allowing the airport to issue permits and impose fees for the ride-hailing firms.

Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said city officials worked hard to make the fee structure for ride-hailing and taxi outlets as equitable as possible despite their differing business models.

She said airport officials and Lambert’s airlines have heard from customers wanting to know why Uber and Lyft weren’t regularly operating at Lambert.

“We have had a lot of pushback from individuals that want this service,” she said after the meeting. “It’s nice to move forward.”

During the airport commission discussion, Reed tried unsuccessfully to get members to instead impose a higher $4 charge for ride-hailing pickups while dropping the $15,000 permit fee.

“I think we’re hard-pressed to say this is a fair system across the board,” Reed said of the mayor’s proposal.

He pointed out that taxis pay a $4 pickup fee and $246 a month to Lambert plus other fees to the regional Taxicab Commission. Cab firms pay nothing to drop off at the airport.

Mark Levison, an attorney for a consortium of Lambert taxi firms, said in a letter last week to city officials that the consortium also takes on many other burdens that wouldn’t be imposed on Uber and Lyft.

Among them, he said, is maintaining a sufficient number of cabs on duty during low-flight periods such as late night and early morning and accepting trip vouchers issued by airlines.

Hamm-Niebruegge noted that participating taxis can line up and get guaranteed pickups at reserved spots outside Lambert’s two terminals.

In contrast, she said, ride-hailing drivers, whose trips typically are arranged through smartphones, will use other areas open to vehicles operated by the general public.

Reed said he plans to consider through the Board of Aldermen ways to make Lambert taxi costs more competitive with those of Uber and Lyft. Hamm-Niebruegge said the airport also is willing to discuss possible changes, such as lowering insurance requirements.

Hamm-Niebruegge said she hopes that the ride-hailing companies will begin operating under the new fees by the end of the month.

Asked by a reporter what would happen if Uber refuses to go along with the fees and not seek a Lambert permit, she said, “Then they can’t operate here and we will aggressively ticket them on our drive.”

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