A proposal to make rides to Charleston International more expensive for travelers puts the board that runs the airport at odds with ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft.
The state's busiest airport plans to charge the app-based transportation providers $3.50 each time passengers are dropped off at the airport. It already charges the same amount when passengers are picked up. The proposal would not affect taxi operators.
Uber and Lyft are contesting the new fee, saying the proposal is unreasonable and arguing the Charleston County Aviation Authority should delay a vote on the matter scheduled for Thursday until its representatives have a chance to negotiate.
If approved, the fee would go into effect Oct. 1.
The surcharge is applied to the ride in the Uber or Lyft app, meaning it will trickle down to riders. The company then passes the money on to the airport.
Such fees are common, though if the proposal is approved, Charleston's would be among the heftiest in the region. The larger Charlotte Douglas International Airport raised its pick-up and drop-off fees to $3.25 in July. Columbia Metropolitan and Myrtle Beach International charge $2 and $3, respectively, for pick-ups. Neither imposes a drop-off charge.
The Aviation Authority makes $900,000 annually from the current $3.50 pick-up charge. That figure would double if the measure passes and ridership remains steady.
Airport finance director Doug Boston said the Aviation Authority will use the extra revenue to offset roughly $3 million spent this year to accommodate the ride-hailing services. It plans to spend $2.5 million on a new parking lot designated for those drivers. New sidewalks and shelters at pick-up sites, a traffic study and additional staff are among other financial outlays for the airport.
"We want to try to recoup some of those costs," Boston said.
Ride-hailing companies including Uber and Lyft are bringing in ever-increasing sales from rides to and from Charleston International, according to information from the Aviation Authority.
Uber's business liaison for airports, meanwhile, said in a letter addressed to the Aviation Authority on Wednesday the new rule "unfairly penalizes riders." Uber also complained that the vote will come before a promised transportation study is completed, and the costs would be out-of-line with similarly sized airports.
Boston said the airport used data from a study commissioned by the airport in Raleigh to determine the amount of the new fee.
Bakari Brock, a senior director at Lyft Business, pointed out in a letter also sent to the Aviation Authority that fees are not imposed on other ground transportation operators.
"Our riders tell us that convenience and price is a key factor when deciding to choose rideshare transportation," Brock wrote. "Our foremost concern with the planned fee increase is the lack of fee parity across ground transportation providers at CHS, as this will create an uneven playing field."
Uber began operating at the airport in 2015. Lyft started picking up and dropping off travelers the following year.
Airport managers have been wary of Uber and Lyft rides cutting into their parking and rental car profits, leading many airports to impose fees. The airport's roughly 4,700 parking spaces brought in $13.5 million in the 2018 fiscal year, or about a quarter of all its revenue, according to the authority's budget. Parking revenue at the airport has been growing over the past few years.
Travelers using Uber or Lyft have a designated, covered pickup and drop-off spot near the hourly parking deck.