That $4 you pay each time you take Uber to the airport is here to stay.
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority this week is issuing a permanent permit to Uber, making the airport surcharge that has been in place since November permanent too, despite criticism from travelers and the transportation companies that it is too excessive.
Uber is lobbying MWAA to give popular the app-based transportation services–and their customers– a break by lowering the fee that applies to pick-ups and drop-offs at Reagan National and Dulles International airports.
In a letter to the authority’s president and chief executive officer John E. Potter, Uber regional manager for the East Cost Meghan Verena Joyce calls the access fee “unreasonably high” and urges Potter to “immediately exercise your authority to reduce the fees” and bring them “to the level MWAA charges for taxi trips.”
While Uber has to pay a $4 access fee for every prick up and drop off at both airports, traditional cabs pay a $3-per-fare fee to operate at National, unless it’s a prearranged trip. The cost is passed on to customers. Uber has also argued that the fee ranks among the priciest in the country. Other airports, including Denver and San Diego, charge access fees ranging from $2.15 to $2.75. Houston Bush International Airport charges $1.25 for pickup only, Uber said.
MWAA officials, however, have said the fee is comparable to what other big airports charge, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland.
“All airports around the country are required to be self-supporting, and in today’s environment airport operators are responsible for maintaining safe, efficient, enjoyable facilities for passengers. In order to support the operation, maintenance and upgrade of those facilities, all entities that derive an income while doing business at the airports are charged fees commensurate with market conditions and facility usage,” an MWAA spokeswoman said in an email.
She said the authority “continually reviews” its regulations and “will make adjustments as necessary” to ensure appropriate costs and charges are in place. But she didn’t explain why the users of the app-based services such as Uber are subjected to higher fees than taxi services.
Uber riders have seen the surcharge in their bill since November when new airport rules went into effect that allow app-based transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate on airport grounds. As part of the guidelines, the companies also were required to make a $5,000 one-time payment for a special permit to operate on airport premises.
MWAA officials said the change was necessary to provide more transportation choices for travelers while ensuring that the “airport operates effectively.” MWAA designated waiting areas where the rideshare vehicles wait until their services are hailed through their smartphone apps.
The regulation of the services, which also include Uber’s competitor Lyft, has introduced a new revenue stream for the airports authority. This year, the app-based services will generate $4.3 million for the airports, including $2.5 million at National and $1.8 million at Dulles. These funds are contributing to a projected 13.7 percent increase on the authority’s concession revenue this year, according to budget documents.
MWAA officials said Wednesday that Uber’s permit to operate at the airports–with the $4 access fee permanent beginning Friday. The permit it issued to Uber and Lyft last November was temporary, to give the Airports Authority time to evaluate the service and impact airport operations. The new permit will allow the company to continue to be an a ground transportation option.
Uber officials say they expected the fee would be lowered when the airports authority issued a permanent permit. The company says the fee will continue to hurt their business and customers who choose the alternative transportation services in part because they are more cost-effective than a traditional taxi.
Travelers have said they were surprised– and upset– to see the $4 surcharge on their trip. On Twitter some have called it “ridiculous” and a “Complete #Fail.”
Uber says for a short trip, the fee increases the price by nearly 50 percent. For example, the average uberX fare for a ride from National to downtown Arlington is about $9, add the $4 fee onto the trip and the fare increases more than 45 percent.
(Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is an investor in Uber.)
“The region – and airport customers – desperately need more reliable and affordable transportation options,” Verena Joyce said in the letter dated June 28. “MWAA’s decision to lock in these high fees in a permanent permit will undermine this critical objective.”
“While these fees are unreasonably high in the first instance, the timing of this decision is equally concerning as the Washington Metropolitan Area grapples with the transportation impacts associated with Metro’s SafeTrack plan, including the planned shut down at the DC National Airport stop between July 5th and July 11th.”