PHOENIX — Travelers will be able to hail Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing services from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport beginning June 18 after a Phoenix City Council decision Wednesday.
Despite competitors’ concerns that the companies’ background checks are insufficient, the council voted 6-3 to approve a controversial new ground-transportation policy for the city-owned airport, sparked by the growing popularity of the car services.
Passengers hail a ride from an app on their smartphone or tablet, and a driver in the area shows up. Fares, which are generally lower than taxi or sedan services, are automatically charged to the credit card on file.
Uber and Lyft have been negotiating with Sky Harbor officials since last summer.
The airport initially was working on separate guidelines for the companies, which have networks of independent drivers using their own cars. The airport eventually decided instead to overhaul its ground-transportation policy for the first time in more than 30 years.
The new system, which is designed to boost revenue and more evenly spread $10 million in annual ground-transportation expenses among taxis, shuttles, sedans and other car services, features a per-trip fee based on the size of a vehicle.
The fee, which applies only to airport pick-ups, will be $3.25 for vehicles that hold up to eight passengers, $4.25 for nine to 23 seats and $9 for 24 or more seats. It takes effect immediately for new permittees including Uber and Lyft drivers and will be phased in for others beginning in January.
The proposed fees initially were higher — $4, $6 and $11 — but were changed at the last minute because of industry concerns that they were too high.
Taxis and SuperShuttle operate under a contract with Sky Harbor and already pay trip fees as well as hefty annual fees.
Together they account for 86 percent of Sky Harbor’s ground-transportation revenue but just 42 percent of trips from the airport.
Those contracts are expected to be amended to reflect the new policy, with each group likely paying less than it does now.
That’s why they have largely supported the overhaul of the policy, even if it could cost them customers as some travelers opt for Uber and Lyft.
The minimum cab fare from Sky Harbor, set by the contract, is $16. The first mile is $5; each additional mile is $2.30. Airport officials say the new policy gives taxis the option to charge less.
Uber’s rates change frequently and vary by city. In Phoenix they are significantly less than a taxi. Rides pay a per-mile charge of 90 cents, a per-minute rate of 9 cents and a booking fee of $1.80. The minimum fare is $5 including the booking fee. Sky Harbor passengers will pay an additional $3.25 for the pick-up fee approved Wednesday.
Background checks were a major area of contention during public meetings.
Sky Harbor officials started out adamant that they wanted ride-sharing drivers to undergo the same approval process as taxi, sedan, limo and shuttle drivers, a process they called the industry “gold standard.”
Those requirements include a fingerprint background check. Uber and Lyft background checks use a driver’s name and Social Security number.
The companies argued that fingerprints are an unnecessary expense and said their background checks are just as thorough if not more so and yield more current information. They said most airports have accepted their background checks.
Sky Harbor’s new policy retains fingerprint-based checks as an option but includes two other options that don’t require fingerprinting. One of them, which is basically Uber and Lyft’s current process, requires passenger pick-ups away from the main terminal and a monthly audit of up to 10 percent of drivers.
Opponents argued that the airport should not reduce its longtime standards to accommodate Uber and Lyft and said passenger safety would be at risk.
Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin, Texas, this month after voters there decided to require drivers to be fingerprinted.
Airport officials said the background-check policy is in line with the state’s regulations on ride-sharing companies that went into effect last year.