UberX launches free taxis in Phila. despite Parking Authority threat

An Uber Black car on Market Street . Ride-share car services such as UberX and Lyft are transforming the business. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
An Uber Black car on Market Street . Ride-share car services such as UberX and Lyft are transforming the business. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Posted: October 27, 2014

Despite a threat by the Philadelphia Parking Authority to impound cars and fine drivers, the low-cost UberX ride-sharing service began operating in the city Friday night.

UberX, which runs in 110 cities across the country, is offering service free in Philadelphia this weekend "up to three trips, up to $20 each," said Uber Technologies spokesman Taylor Bennett.

By midafternoon Saturday, the Uber app was showing "No UberXs available for Philadelphia."

"Demand is the through the roof," Bennett said.

The Parking Authority took to social media in attempt to dissuade UberX's target audience from using the service.

"Public needs to know UberX drivers may not be licensed and cars may not be insured. Criminal background checks also in question," @PhilaParking tweeted.

Dennis Weldon, the Authority's general counsel, said that "After months of unsuccessfully trying to legalize Network Transportation Services in Harrisburg, Uber's recent announcement that it would nevertheless knowingly provide illegal taxi service in Philadelphia represents a shocking disregard for the law and public safety."

"The PPA will continue to monitor taxi service and illegal operators will be subject to immediate impoundment and fines," Weldon said.

Weldon said any vehicle providing illegal taxi cab service via UberX or any other illegal transportation network operation would be seized and the driver, owner of the vehicle and company will all be fined $1,000 each.

"The public should be warned," he said. "We strongly urge these companies to follow the law and ask the public to consider its own safety when engaging illegal taxicab service."

Bennett said UberX decided to start service this weekend after last week's liquidation of First Keystone Risk Retention Group Inc., which had insured more than 25 percent of the city's 1,600 taxis.

Each Uber driver, Bennett said, is backed by the company's $1 million insurance policy. The decision to launch service was to ensure that city riders "get safe, affordable rides."

But Parking Authority spokesman Martin O'Rourke again emphasized on Saturday that PPA would not take the affected taxis off the streets until Tuesday or Wednesday if they did not have new insurance.

Many taxi owners insist that their insurance covers them for 30 more days.

Enforcing the ban may be difficult because these privately owned UberX cars cannot be identified easily.

O'Rourke declined to disclose details of how enforcement would be handled, but said that the authority would follow procedures previously used to identify illegal taxis.

Asked Saturday morning if any UberX drivers had been yet faced action by the city, Bennett instead replied, "our partners [drivers] are excited for the new opportunity to start moving people around town safely."

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens

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