Uber fee, freight bill top Georgia lawmakers’ transportation priorities

Lawmakers say legislation that would establish a 50-cent flat fee for rides for hire is a top transportation priority when they reconvene later this month. (AJC FILE PHOTO)
Lawmakers say legislation that would establish a 50-cent flat fee for rides for hire is a top transportation priority when they reconvene later this month. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

Replacing a sales tax with a 50-cent flat fee on rides for hire is a top priority in the General Assembly as lawmakers return to session this month, two key lawmakers say.

The chairmen of the Senate and House transportation committees say continuing the work of a freight logistics commission also will be on the agenda when lawmakers reconvene. But most of the attention will be on balancing the state budget amid severe economic distress — a move the lawmakers hope will not affect major road construction projects.

"I can tell you our focus will be on one thing: getting the budget done," Senate Transportation Chairman Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, told a business group, the Council for Quality Growth, in a teleconference Tuesday morning.

Beach's meeting followed a similar appearance Friday before the group by House Transportation Chairman Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville. Both chairmen named the ride-hailing fee — dubbed by many the "Uber fee" — as one of the few transportation bills that are likely to get lawmakers' attention during the remaining days of the legislative session. The session was suspended in March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ride-for-hire tax has been a recurring issue at the Gold Dome. Taxi and limousine services have long paid sales taxes, but ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft have not. Under a "marketplace facilitator" bill lawmakers passed earlier this year, ride-hailing companies have begun paying the sales tax. As a result, customers in Atlanta now pay one of the highest ride-hailing taxes in the country — 8.9%.

Lawmakers want to replace the tax with a 50-cent flat fee, plus a 25-cent fee for shared rides. The fee would also apply to taxi and limousine rides. Beach and Tanner said the legislation is a priority.

“We’re hopeful we’ll get that done,” Tanner told the business group.

The bill would dedicate revenue from the fee — up to $40 million — to public transportation. Such a dedicated source of revenue is a long-sought goal of transit advocates.

On the other hand, Tanner's plans for a sweeping expansion of rural transit programs in Georgia is likely dead for this year.

“It’s not going anywhere,” Beach said. “Period.”

Both lawmakers say efforts to improve freight movement in Georgia should continue to move forward. Last year Beach and Tanner chaired a commission that recommended spending up to $121.5 billion over 30 years to remove traffic bottlenecks and aid freight moving from the Port of Savannah.

The commission plans to recommend ways to raise money for that work later this year. But lawmakers must first approve legislation extending the commission. Both chairmen predicted it will pass.

But the budget remains the biggest issue lawmakers face. Major road construction projects likely will continue despite expected budget cuts.

But Beach hopes another federal stimulus package will focus on infrastructure spending — without the usual federal strings attached. He said Georgia needs something akin to the relaxation of federal rules that helped clear the way for the rapid reconstruction of a section of I-85 destroyed by fire three years ago.

“I’m not saying every project can be built in six weeks,” Beach said. “But we can expedite projects.”