The rideshare giant Uber is taking on Orlando International Airport over fees it considers unfair when compared to the fees traditional taxis pay.
Orlando International Airport in October raised passenger pickup fees for transportation network companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft by 20%, meaning the airport is now charging those companies $7 per trip to operate at the airport.
Uber officials claim Orlando International Airport is now the most expensive in the country for rideshare app users. Business Traveler, in a report about the fee increases last summer, also wrote that the fees were the most expensive in the nation.
But it’s not necessarily the cost that is creating friction between Uber and the airport — it’s the disparity.
Taxis pay just $4 to operate at the airport, a $3 difference. That is despite state law that went into effect in 2017 that allows for “reasonable pickup fees” at airports that must be “consistent with any pickup fees charged to taxicab companies.”
Uber officials have been in talks with lawmakers and the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) to remedy the fee disparity. Uber is requesting, at the least, an amendment to a single word in the 2017 law (HB 221). Current statute language requires fees to be “consistent” with those charged to taxis. Uber would like that word to be more definitive — such as requiring fees be the “same” or “identical.”
But talks with GOAA aren’t going well, according to a letter sent by the group’s CEO, Kevin Thibault, to Uber’s regional head of policy and communications, Javi Correoso.
The letter makes the case that the fees are reasonable because Uber is a successful business.
“As you are aware, Uber continues to succeed as the preferred ground transportation automobile option for Orlando International Airport’s (MCO) customers,” Thibault wrote.
“Since the pick-up fee was increased last year, Uber’s market share and ridership have only increased. As we recognize that ridership has increased with overall business expansion and vibrant economic activity in our state; we must both acknowledge that the market share increase reflects Uber’s continued success in dominating the ‘automobile-for-hire’ market at MCO.”
Later in the letter, Thibault cites “year-over-year trip increases of 30%” for Uber, which he claims are “far out-performing the airport’s air passenger traffic increases.”
He added that “Uber now enjoys 80% of the sector market share at MCO.
Thibault, in his letter to Correoso, disputed Uber’s claim that airport fees at MCO were the highest in the nation.
“When compared to two-way access fees that other airports charge, the one-way fee at MCO is lower than similarly sized airports and is less than the two-way national average at large hub airports, like MCO,” he wrote.
Thibault did not offer a citation for his claim. However, a 2019 benchmarking study conducted for the city of Phoenix in 2019 found that the average combined trip fee nationwide was $5.60 at that time, far less than the $7 Orlando International Airport is now charging rideshare companies like Uber.
Orlando International Airport had been charging $5.80 for transportation network company pickups, which, even when it was first implemented in 2017 when the airport first began allowing companies like Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers, was the highest fee in the nation, according to CBS Miami.
MCO is able to skirt the 2017 law requiring fee parity in part because of the vague wording, but also because the airport classifies companies like Uber and Lyft as prearranged ride services, while categorizing taxis as an on-demand service.
Uber, as has been its argument for years since it began fighting for statewide regulations to avoid the previous patchwork of local ordinances, is asking less for lower fees than it is for a level playing field — and for GOAA to stop picking winners and losers.
The debate is reminiscent of fights the company battled with Lyft in Hillsborough County where large disparities existed between taxicab fees and rules governing service. In that debacle, the now-defunct Public Transportation Commission was responsible for setting fees and regulations. After a series of public records requests, it was revealed that the Commission’s Executive Director was in communication with the taxi industry over TNC regulations.
The PTC was later disbanded and even if it weren’t, its regulatory authority would have stopped after the 2017 law went into effect anyway.
It’s also worth noting that Tampa International Airport, which is in Hillsborough County, charges TNCs a $5 pickup fee. That’s still one of the highest in the state, but far less than the $7 Orlando International Airport is charging. In Miami, Uber pays just $2.
The issue does not just impact Uber’s bottom line. The fees reduce the amount drivers are able to take home for rides. Uber keeps up to 25% of a ride cost and then the driver receives whatever is left, minus fees and a share to cover insurance costs.
Drivers have already seen a hit to their earnings with auto insurance rates on the rise in Florida and with the $7 fee at Orlando International Airport, that’s even less drivers can pocket.
Uber told Florida Politics that Orlando International Airport is the only airport in the state where fees for taxis are less than those for TNCs.