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Blindsided by Council, Fresno's airport tries to figure out how to sell Uber fee

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Let’s take another look at last week’s Uber-Lyft-airport fiasco at Fresno City Hall.

CVObserver Publisher Alex Tavlian reported on the Thursday morning hearing before the dust could even settle: A five-member City Council majority led by Garry Bredefeld and Clint Olivier handed consumers and the gig economy a resounding victory.

A second look and the luxury of time point to a complementary judgment: The Airports Department failed big time, which means the Brand Administration needs to step up its game.

The Mayor wasn’t in the Council Chamber during the mayhem.

“What I heard is it was a poor presentation and the council members took over,” Brand told me by phone on Tuesday.

The Mayor is showing his knack for understatement.

What we’ll see in this story is bureaucracy’s version of journalism’s cardinal sin – burying the lede. That means trying to win a debate, yet foolishly hiding your main point.

Our story will unfold in four parts. We’ll present the Airports Department’s reason for going to the City Council. We’ll dig into the council’s response. We’ll hear from Kevin Meikle, the city’s director of aviation who was out of town on business that day. And we’ll conclude with a few of my takeaways from the spectacle.

Keep in mind: City Hall is the darnedest place.

All of us know how Uber and Lyft work. They are a ride-sharing service. They’re also turning the traditional ground transportation industry on its head. Uber and Lyft are truly a “disruptive” economic force.

The Airports Department wanted the council to approve a $3 drop-off/pick-up fee per customer on Uber and Lyft for the privilege of operating at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Uber and Lyft are deemed to be “Transportation Network Companies,” or TNCs.

The staff report was written by Meikle and delivered to the council by City Manager Bruce Rudd.

“The proposed TNC rate structure is consistent with Airports’ practice of complying with federal grant assurances by charging commercial operators providing services on a for-profit basis a non-discriminatory fee,” Meikle wrote. “The proposed fee supports Airports’ goal to meet its ongoing operations and maintenance costs, facilities capital program, long term capital needs, and to ensure future investment grade bond ratings. All airports have a fee structure for TNC operations.”

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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