Pittsburgh-area cab companies make case against ride-sharing trend

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Pittsburgh-area taxi companies met Thursday with representatives of the state Public Utility Commission to discuss what could or should be done about two ride-sharing companies that have moved into the city.

"If they are providing transportation without a certificate of public convenience, they are violating the law," said PUC representative Mike Hoffman.

Lyft and Uber, two San Francisco-based companies, have enlisted drivers in Pittsburgh to use their personal vehicles to offer taxi-like services that connect drivers and riders via smartphone apps.

Earlier this week, representatives of Star Transportation Group and Pittsburgh Transportation Group sent a letter to Mayor Bill Peduto, along with a proposed ordinance that would essentially make ride-share companies illegal in the city and empower city police "with citation authority over vehicles operating like taxicabs or limousines, but not certified by the [Public Utility Commission]."

"I'd just like to see everyone on the same playing field," Star Transportation CEO Robert DeLucia said at Thursday's meeting. "These companies are going to be very detrimental to the transportation industry in the city, and they're trying to fly in under the radar."

A Lyft spokeswoman said response from the community to the service launched last week has remained positive, despite the growing pressure from the taxi companies.

Mr. DeLucia suggested the taxi companies should work to better inform the public about their own apps.

On Wednesday, Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mr. Peduto, said the Democratic mayor supports introducing Lyft and similar companies into the city to compete with the taxi companies. Mr. Acklin said the mayor will not support an outright ban on ride-share companies.

Chuck Half, who was city innovation and performance manager under former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, is now manager of products and productivity for Veterans Taxi, which is part of Star Transportation Group.

At Thursday's meeting, Mr. Half questioned why Mr. Peduto had not sent a representative. It was not clear whether an invitation to the meeting, which is held quarterly, had been extended to the mayor's office. Mr. Peduto, who returned to work Thursday after a week on vacation, was not available for comment.

"I think the administration has to figure out how it can ask taxi companies to contribute to a 'sociable city' and then allow competitors using non-certificated drivers to nibble away at our business," Mr. Half said.

For his part, Jamie Campolongo, CEO of Pittsburgh Transportation Group which owns Yellow Cab, said the taxi companies will seek to work with the PUC and report drivers operating without so-called certificates of public convenience.

"Until the city decides how they're going to handle it, we don't know what you can do," Mr. Campolongo told Mr. Hoffman. "We are going to push members of city council to come forward and say where they stand."

Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1241.

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