For Uber, Lyft, Pa. permits unlikely this year

The debate swells over whether private-car ride-share services should be allowed in Philadelphia. Uber Black is already available here, operating as an electronically summoned SUV limousine service.
The debate swells over whether private-car ride-share services should be allowed in Philadelphia. Uber Black is already available here, operating as an electronically summoned SUV limousine service. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 11, 2014

HARRISBURG - No new laws are likely to be passed this year to permit "ride-share" companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate in Pennsylvania, legislators said Thursday after a state House committee hearing on the issue.

And the panel's chairman said he would support efforts to remove Philadelphia from any statewide regulation, because the Philadelphia Parking Authority regulates taxis and limousines in the city.

In the rest of the state, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission regulates cabs and other for-hire vehicles.

Uber and Lyft, both based in San Francisco, connect people looking for rides with private car owners looking for extra money. Their phone apps allow riders to summon a car, pay for the service, and get a receipt, all electronically.

After months of operating in defiance of the PUC in Pittsburgh, the two companies won temporary authority from the PUC in July to operate in Allegheny County, while they sought permanent authority there and across Pennsylvania.

The stakes were raised this week when the enforcement arm of the PUC proposed a $7 million fine against Lyft for operating in defiance of the PUC's earlier cease-and-desist orders.

That is one of the largest fines ever proposed by the PUC.

The proposed fine is subject to review by a panel of administrative law judges and the full commission, and it could be reduced or dismissed in a process that is expected to take months.

Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said Lyft "is willing to work with the PUC, and we are having productive conversations."

No similar fine has been proposed against Uber, because the company declined to provide the PUC with details on how many rides it provided before receiving temporary authority, PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.

On Thursday, Uber and Lyft officials urged the House Consumer Affairs Committee to establish less-restrictive regulations for ride-share companies, while cabdrivers and owners from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as representatives of insurance companies and trial lawyers, urged regulations similar to those for traditional cabs.

With only a few days left in the legislative session, lawmakers said they expected no action this year on the contentious issue, despite rallies in the Capitol Rotunda by ride-share supporters, and taxi parades in Philadelphia by opponents.

"It was going too fast. We need more time," said committee chairman Rep. Robert Godshall (R., Montgomery).

"I'm glad we've slowed down this process," said Rep. Robert Matzie (D., Allegheny). "The likelihood of legislation passing next week is slim to none."

He said the legislature needed more time to craft consumer protections, including insurance requirements for ride-share drivers and their vehicles.

Godshall said he would seek to have Philadelphia exempted from ride-share regulations, as leaders of the Philadelphia Parking Authority requested Thursday.

Vincent J. Fenerty Jr., executive director of the Parking Authority, told the committee that Philadelphia's taxi-medallion system, which requires owners of cabs to buy a medallion that now costs about $500,000, makes Philadelphia different from the rest of the state.

He said that Uber Black, an electronically summoned limousine service operating in Philadelphia, is thriving under PPA regulation and that lower-cost ride-shares such as UberX and Lyft should be kept out of the city.

Rep. Erin Molchany (D., Allegheny) said Philadelphia's taxi service was much better than Pittsburgh's and might require different regulation.

"We have a pretty significant service problem, and it needs to addressed," she said of Pittsburgh. "But these are completely different systems. . . . We are comparing apples to watermelons."


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587 @nussbaumpaul

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|