Photo courtesy of Uber.

The Senate revived its push to increase fees on ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft in its fiscal year 2022 budget bill, and with roadway congestion starting to return in force, transportation reform activists are hopeful the House will join their colleagues from across the hall.

With a 27-2 standing vote on Tuesday, senators approved a budget amendment (No. 23) from Transportation Committee Co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore that would increase the per-trip fee for transportation network companies, or TNCs, and reform how the state collects data from the widely popular platforms.

The House did not include any of those fee changes in its budget bill approved in April, but both branches previously approved nearly identical measures as part of a transportation bond bill they sent Baker – who vetoed that section – at the end of the 2019-2020 session.

“Our hope is that this can become part of a compromise or a trade,” Chris Dempsey, director of advocacy organization Transportation for Massachusetts, told the News Service. “I can’t tell you that the House is chomping at the bit to take action on this, but I also haven’t heard opposition to the idea. We know that the House has supported increases on TNC fees in the past. There’s no reason the two chambers can’t agree again on some language and put something in front of the governor with enough time to override vetoes if need be.”

Transportation Committee Co-chair Rep. William Straus could not be reached for immediate comment Thursday morning.

Following approval of Boncore’s amendment, the Senate budget plan now calls for increasing fees on ride-hailing services from the current flat 20 cents per trip to 40 cents for a shared ride, $1.20 for a non-shared ride and $2.20 for a luxury ride. It would also put an additional 20-cent fee on rides that start and end in the MBTA’s service area.

Revenue, which would likely total in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars depending on ridership, would be split between the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, municipalities where the trips begin, the MBTA and the state’s regional transit authorities.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Boncore described his amendment as a way to alleviate congestion by incentivizing other modes of travel while also generating funding to invest in the state’s public transit systems and roadway infrastructure.

“Roadway congestion returned to pre-pandemic congestion sooner than we thought. It came back quicker than most other things,” Boncore said. “The language before us today presents a unique opportunity to address two transportation needs.”

In January 2020, before COVID-19 hit, Baker said app-based companies contributed to “tremendous pressure on every part of our transportation system” and filed his own bill seeking to raise the per-trip fee on app-based ride companies to a flat $1.

But a year later, when the Legislature included a tiered structure of higher fees in a $16.5 billion bond bill, Baker rejected the proposal, calling it “complicated” and improperly based on pre-pandemic assumptions about how Massachusetts residents travel.

“Before instituting fees that are aimed at incentivizing certain travel behaviors, we need to understand what ridership and congestion patterns are going to look like after the pandemic,” Baker wrote at the time.

Dempsey criticized that line of thinking from the governor, referencing the administration’s ongoing efforts to study the “future of work” and how common telework will remain as offices reopen.

“The governor saying ‘because we don’t know the future of work we must stay in place and stick to the status quo’ is a strategy that is going to look pretty darn foolish in six months when that crushing congestion returns, because it’s going to return,” Dempsey said. “I would say that the governor should understand that what makes Massachusetts such a dynamic economy and a productive place to live and be is because we have the smartest people in the world in really small spaces.”

“If he thinks the future of work is we’re all living in a bubble and working from home, that’s going to be a sad future for the commonwealth,” Dempsey continued. “If everyone’s just working from home, you can get better weather and cheaper housing in North Carolina or Arizona.”

Baker refiled legislation in April aimed at updating data collection requirements and safety regulations on the companies. The Boncore amendment in the Senate’s budget also includes a similar push to track trip start and end points, mileage and routes – which supporters say will give state officials a better picture of how the platforms contribute to congestion – more closely than under current law.

Both Uber and Lyft have pushed against fee increases in recent years. In January, amid the Legislature’s last push, Uber spokesperson Alix Anfang said, “Massachusetts won’t solve congestion or fully fund mass transit without ensuring that all users of the road pay their fair share.”

Senate Revives Push for Higher Uber, Lyft Fees

by State House News Service time to read: 3 min