BOSTON — Plans to carve out a larger share of revenue for cities and towns from ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have sputtered out once again, after lawmakers rejected a proposal to increase fees for the transit companies.
Lawmakers recently passed a $48.1 billion budget, signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday, after stripping out a provision that would have increased fees for the ride-hailing services.
Transit advocates who pushed for the changes are optimistic that lawmakers could act on several bills that propose similar increases.
"There's still hope," said John Stout, transportation campaign director for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group. "Traffic congestion has returned and it's clear to many lawmakers that going back to the transportation status quo won't work for Massachusetts."
One proposal, filed by Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, would replace the state's 20-cent fee charged by ride-hailing companies with a 40-cent fee for shared rides, $1.20 for a ride that isn’t shared, and $2.20 for a non-shared ride in a luxury vehicle.
It also would allow cities and towns to set a new $2.25 fee for local rides.
Supporters of higher fees say they will drum up much-needed revenue for transportation upgrades while encouraging commuters to use mass transit.
"We need to get more cars off the road, encourage pool trips and incentivize people to use mass transit," Crighton said. "We still have bills before committees and plenty of time in the legislative session to get it across the finish line."
Critics of increased fees say the services will shift the costs to consumers, likely leading to more expensive Uber and Lyft rides, while hurting drivers who depend on ride-hailing jobs.
Massachusetts has seen the number of ride-hailing trips soar from 64.8 million in 2017 to 91.1 million in 2019, according to state data.
More than 200,000 ride-hailing drivers are permitted to work in the state, though it is not clear how many are now on the road.
Ride-hailing use plummeted during the pandemic but more cars are returning to the road as COVID-19 related restrictions have lifted.
Baker signed a ride-hailing law in 2016 that included a 20-cent fee per ride, half of which is distributed to communities. The state collected more than $18.2 million from the fees in 2019, according to the Transportation Network Company division of the Department of Public Utilities.
By statute, money from the fees must be used to address the impact of the services on roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
The state's share of ride-hailing fees is earmarked for a transportation fund and goes to support the taxi industry, which has seen a decline in ridership since Uber, Lyft and other companies raced into the local market a few years ago.
To be sure, the measure would have faced a veto from Baker, who has previously supported increasing ride-hailing fees but has more recently scoffed at the idea of increasing transportation costs as the state continues to recover from the pandemic.
Baker rejected a similar proposal to hike ride-hailing fees last year.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.