Temporary OK for ride-share firms in Pittsburgh; cameras for Philly cabs

Ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft use apps to dispatch drivers in personal vehicles to give people rides.
Ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft use apps to dispatch drivers in personal vehicles to give people rides.
Posted: July 26, 2014

"Ride-share" services Uber and Lyft won temporary authority from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Thursday to operate in Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County.

In another development, taxi cabs in Philadelphia will be required to install security cameras this year, following approval Thursday by the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

The security cameras will monitor both the driver and passengers, and are designed to improve safety for both, said the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which regulates taxis in Philadelphia.

"We expect that most, if not all, installations will have been completed by the end of the year," said James Ney, director of the Taxicab & Limousine Division of the Parking Authority.

In the rest of the state, cabs are regulated by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which on Thursday granted emergency temporary authority sought by ride-share operators Uber and Lyft.

Ride-sharing companies use smartphone apps to dispatch drivers using their personal vehicles to give people rides. The drivers typically pay a 20 percent commission to the companies.

Uber and Lyft have been operating in Pittsburgh in defiance of an earlier cease-and-desist order from PUC administrative law judges, who had ruled that the companies were essentially illegal, unlicensed taxi operations.

Thursday's decision by the PUC will give Uber and Lyft the right to operate in Allegheny County for 60 days, once they file a fare structure and required proof of insurance with the PUC.

Uber and Lyft are also seeking authority in separate applications to operate in the rest of Pennsylvania - except in Philadelphia, where the PUC has no jurisdiction over the taxi industry.

No decision has been made on those applications.

Although Uber and Lyft maintain they are unlike traditional taxi companies, the PUC concluded Thursday that the fact that ride-sharing "incorporates innovative technology does not change the fundamental character of the service: transportation for compensation."

PUC commissioner James H. Cawley said the commission approval requires Uber and Lyft to provide "primary, not merely excess, responsibility for insurance coverage. We have also reduced the maximum age of the vehicles that can be used to provide service. These changes will benefit the operators, passengers and the public."

PUC chairman Robert F. Powelson said the unanimous vote shows that the "current regulatory structure is not a barrier to technological advances and desirable changes in the transportation industry."

Lyft said: "With this decision, the PUC has recognized that regulations can and should be modernized to allow innovative industries to thrive while maintaining the highest level of public safety."

Uber's statement was similar: "Today common sense prevailed, and we applaud the PUC for recognizing the critical need for safe, reliable transportation options in Pittsburgh."

In their push to recruit drivers and passengers around the country and abroad, the ride-share operators have sparked an intense debate about competition, driver pay, and safeguards for passengers, including questions about criminal background checks, insurance policies, and driver qualifications.

The PUC will meet Aug. 28 to more broadly examine the regulation needed for ride-share operations in Pennsylvania.

"We are not going to cut corners on public safety," Powelson said. "We can't have the wild, wild West here in the transportation sector."


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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