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NFTA reaches deals with Uber and Lyft, hours after announcing fee on ride-hailing at airport

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Hours after announcing it would add a $3.50 fee for ride-hailing services to and from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority announced it had reached agreements with ride-hailing providers Uber and Lyft, including one that reduces the previously-announced fee.

Late Friday, the NFTA revealed that it had come to terms with Uber on a one-year pilot program through which the ride-hailing company will pay a flat fee of $180,000.

That pilot program runs through June 28, 2018. 

The NFTA's agreement with Lyft, meanwhile, will see a reduction in the original fee from $3.50 to $3.00 for services to and from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport and the Niagara Falls International Airport. Lyft had previously stated it would not provide service to the airports under the previous conditions. The NFTA's agreement with Lyft will be in effect until June 29, 2018.

Ride-hailing in Western New York, which was made legal as part of the state's budget agreement in April, begins June 29.

The previously announced $3.50 fee drew sharp criticism from elected officials, including Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, who is calling for the fees to be dropped entirely.

"To me it seems like nothing more than a money grab by the NFTA, which has a reputation for being very administerially bloated," Lorigo told WBFO Friday morning. "It's nothing but pure greed."

However, NFTA Director of Aviation William Vanacek told WBFO the resolution was available for review since last Friday along with other board materials. He said it is common practice for airports to charge for such services and suggested Friday morning that the NFTA actually may lose money by allowing ride-hailing.

"We have to look at potential revenue hits for us, namely what effect it will have on our parking revenues, what effect it will have on our taxicab revenues," Vanacek said. "We're looking at this. We're not seeing that we're going to gain as an operation any positive revenue impact from the operation of transportation network companies providing those services at the airport."

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, meanwhile, had urged the Legislature to hold a hearing on the matter.

"I will fight to end the misguided philosophy of money grubbing bureaucracies and government to ‘tax anything that moves,’ including ride sharing vehicles.  This new fee should have been a discussion, not a decision," Mychajliw said in a prepared written statement. "This region needs to stop making the solution to every problem a new fee or a tax.  We don’t even have ride-sharing here yet, and unelected bureaucrats are already raiding the pockets of taxpayers and visitors.  It’s absurd." 

Vanacek said the NFTA would participate in a public hearing if necessary.

Mary Catalfamo contributed to this report.