Fresno airport officials say the growing popularity of rideshare services Uber and Lyft is starting to chew into parking-lot revenues that help operate, maintain and improve Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
But one proposal to recover some of that money through a $3 charge for each trip by rideshare drivers to pick up or drop off passengers at the airport has been turned down by the Fresno City Council, leaving the airport to figure out some other way of making up some of the shortfall.
That could force the city to someday make potentially painful decisions that could affect airport users, officials said. Those could include either imposing fees later on rideshares, taxis and shuttles for pick-ups or drop-offs, or raising rates in the airport parking lots.
“We’re at $8 per day for long-term parking; that’s the cheapest in the state, and one of the cheapest in the country,” airports director Kevin Meikle told The Bee this week. “I don’t want to be in a position eight or 10 years from now where we have to raise a rate that could have been lower if we captured this revenue” from ridesharing companies.
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The airport could also make up the difference by raising airline landing fees and terminal rents, but that could cause some airlines to reconsider how often – or even whether – they serve Fresno, Meikle said.
Over the last three months, Uber and Lyft have averaged about 3,700 monthly trips to the airport. The two rideshare companies have been operating in Fresno for several years, but only began serving the airport in early 2016. But more people using the services means that fewer people are using the short- and long-term parking lots at the airport.
On a 5-1 vote last week, council members rejected the fee proposal, which was intended to make up some of the losses in airport parking revenue. Only Councilman Paul Caprioglio, whose Council District 4 includes the airport, voted to support the proposed charge. Members Garry Bredefeld, Oliver Baines, Luis Chavez, Esmeralda Soria and Clint Olivier opposed it.
An analysis found fewer vehicles using airport parking, and less money collected since the two ridesharing companies began serving the airport, Dan Weber, the city’s assistant director of aviation, told the council. “And the only thing that changed over that period that would have affected parking or passenger habits would be 3,000 trips per month” from the rideshares.
The the reduced use of the parking lot, Weber added, justified a fee of $4.63 per rideshare pick-up or drop-off. After examining what other airports are doing, “we settled on $3 as being a fair and reasonable fee.” Of the estimated $166,680 annual shortfall attributed to the rideshares, the fee was expected to recover about $108,000 a year.
Council members, however, expressed concerns about the added charge.
After City Manager Bruce Rudd explained that both Uber and Lyft, as well as their drivers, are required to pay business taxes to the city, Bredefeld argued that the proposed fee is an unnecessary burden. “I’m in support of them paying business taxes,” he said. “But I have a problem with these additional charges and fees. I think they’re unfair.”
Baines said he didn’t understand the logic of charging a pick-up and drop-off fee to Uber and Lyft when the airport doesn’t also charge taxicab operators or hotel shuttle vans. “If we’re not charging the taxis and shuttle services and what have you, I’m not exactly sure it’s fair to just charge the (ridesharing companies) because it’s easy.”
So because people are not using the parking lot, we are going to tax people who are getting a ride to the airport to pay for the fact that people are not parking in the parking lot?
City Council President Clint Olivier
Weber said by not collecting all possible revenues, that could make it harder to qualify for grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies and to keep the airport operations self-sufficient from the rest of the city’s treasury. “All of the businesses on the airport … , pay to support the airport, to pay for operations, maintenance, capital improvements and the $2 million parking expansion we just did,” Weber said. “Everyone else is paying their fair share” except for Uber and Lyft.
Shifting the fees to airlines can have its own repercussions, Meikle told The Bee this week. Fee increases can prompt airlines to re-evaluate whether or not the airplanes they use to serve Fresno may be more profitably used in another market, potentially reducing the number of flights or destinations available to passengers flying to or from Fresno, he said.
The airport operates as an enterprise department, financially independent from the city’s general fund budget from which many of Fresno’s day-to-day operating expenses are paid.
Lyft did not reply to a request from The Bee for comment. In an emailed statement to The Bee, Uber said “we are working with the Fresno Yosemite Airport to renew our airport permit and look forward to continuing to serve the hundreds of riders and drivers that currently rely on Uber.” The email did not address Rudd’s assertion that both Uber and Lyft were behind on paying their business license fees to the city, or what steps the company takes to ensure that its drivers also secure the necessary business license to operate in Fresno.
Meikle said the airport’s analysis shows that about 37 percent of the current Uber and Lyft users to the airport would otherwise be parking in the airport lots without the rideshares. Others would find other ways to get rides to or from the airport, including friends or relatives or public transportation.
There is no immediate impact on the airport operations from the parking shortfall; the $108,000 that the fee was expected to generate in the 2017-2018 budget year is small compared to the airport’s $33.2 million operating budget. But each source of revenue is important to planning for long-term maintenance and capital needs at the airport.
Council members asked whether there are alternatives to the ridesharing fees to instead encourage people to use the parking lots. “There are things you can do with parking to incentivize people to use it,” Weber acknowledged. “But it all costs money to do that, and there’s some risk involved spending money in hopes that it’ll generate additional revenue.”
“We could have valet parking, we could have reserved parking, and other amenities such as that,” he added. “But that in itself is a bit of a gamble on our part, and we don’t like to gamble.”