Could Uber fee pay for mass transit in Georgia?

A Georgia lawmaker wants to resolve a sales tax dispute with ride-hailing companies and raise money for transit expansion.

A Georgia lawmaker wants to resolve a sales tax dispute with ride-hailing companies and raise money for transit expansion.

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported, Uber is in a high-stakes dispute with the Georgia Department of Transportation, which says the company owes $22.1 million in sales taxes and other charges.

The department says ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft must pay sales taxes under Georgia law – just like taxi and limousine companies. Uber says it’s not a transportation company, just a technology company that provides an app, and isn’t subject to the sales taxes.

The General Assembly has tried and failed to address the dispute. But a key lawmaker wants to give it another shot – and perhaps raise money for mass transit at the same time.

Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, is chairman of the House Transportation Committee. He also chairs a special commission that has been studying transit issues for the last two years. Earlier this year its efforts led to legislation that could spark a major transit expansion across metro Atlanta.

Now Tanner's commission is tackling transit problems in rural Georgia. It's also looking for a regular source of state funding for transit across the state, and a ride-hailing fee might be just the ticket.

Earlier this year Tanner proposed a 50-cent fee on all rides for hire – including taxis, limos, Uber and Lyft, etc. The fee didn’t make it into the final transit bill signed by Gov. Nathan Deal. But at a transit commission meeting Monday, Tanner said he’ll revisit the issue in the upcoming legislative session.

The proposal would put all forms of rides for hire on an equal footing when it comes to paying state taxes or fees. And it could generate $60 million a year for transit, Tanner said.

Given that major transit projects often cost hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, $60 million may not sound like much. But it could pay for the operations of the new ATL Board, which now oversees transit planning and funding in 13 metro Atlanta counties, as well as similar transit boards Tanner would like to establish across the state. It could also help pay for his plans to offer competitive grants to transit agencies in small cities and rural areas.

Uber and Lyft were involved in negotiations over the fee in the last legislative session. An Uber spokesoman recently told the AJC the company will “continue our conversations with the Legislature about a reasonable fee structure that makes sense for riders and drivers, while making clear that Georgia is receptive to new technologies.”

You can read more about Uber's tax dispute with the state here. You can read more about Tanner's efforts to address transit issues in rural Georgia here.