The most powerful people on Beacon Hill now all agree that the state should raise fees on Uber and Lyft trips from the current 20-cents-a-ride, with the money funding transit and other transportation improvements.
But Governor Charlie Baker, the House of Representatives, and now the state Senate have each embraced different approaches, making it unclear whether the broad alignment will ultimately translate into law.
Let’s start with Baker’s plan. Originally proposed in January and then revived in a recent budget measure, it would tack a $1 fee on all ride-hail trips. The House, meanwhile, took a pass on the idea in its most recent budget bill, but earlier this year included a hike to $1.20 on most trips in a transportation revenue bill; the fee would stay 20 cents for shared trips, where riders essentially carpool.
Then, just this week, the Senate added the fee hike to its budget bill, but took a less straightforward approach: most trips would have a 7 percent surcharge added, but shared rides would have only a 3 percent fee.
There’s more: the Senate would add another 3 percent fee on solo rides taken during rush hour, a measure intended to discourage congestion.
Both Baker and the House had envisioned that Uber and Lyft would pay the fee and not pass it onto customers. The Senate, however, would push the costs onto the riders.
“The Senate always intended to move meaningful policy rather than just raise revenue, so this...structure attempts to alleviate congestion and reduce emissions,“ said state Senator Joseph Boncore, the chamber’s transportation chairman.
Boncore’s counterpart in the House, Representative William Straus, said he disagrees with the percentage-based fee, but expressed confidence the two chambers would bridge the divide.
“In my experience, where there’s substantive consensus, the Legislature finds a way to get the job done,” Straus said.
Before the pandemic, a fee hike was seen as a near-certainty, with officials and advocates arguing it would help fund transit and address ride-hail companies’ impact on traffic congestion.
Things have since changed quite a bit. Public transit is in even greater financial trouble because of the steep fall in fare revenue. But a fee hike would come at a time when Boston traffic remains well below typical levels. And the number of ride-hailing trips is also way down during the pandemic, meaning the revenue from fees in the near-term would be considerably lower than previously forecast.
Uber declined to comment on the Senate proposal, but suggested lawmakers should also consider fees for delivery trucks, which contribute to urban congestion and are doing much more business during the pandemic than ride-hailing services.
Lyft said “now is not the time” for the state to raise fees in an uncertain economy, arguing the policy would hurt its drivers.
Also in the budget deliberations, the House and Senate each rejected amendments to add more than $300 million to the MBTA to stave off upcoming service cuts.
The Senate did, though, approve language saying any new federal coronavirus stimulus for pubic transit should be primarily used to restore the T’s service cuts or delayed construction projects. That clause was apparently in response to state officials who have said that if Congress does end up adopting stimulus aid, the MBTA may pocket the money and wait to restore some service when the pandemic is over and ridership returns.