Peduto asks for rule change on ride-sharing operations

Mayor Bill Peduto wants the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to change its rules to allow for ride-sharing operations in Pittsburgh.

"As mayor, I support the expansion of transportation options in our city and recognize the need for a broader and more diverse suite of options to get people around town quickly, safely, and reliably," Mr. Peduto wrote in a letter to PUC executive director Jan Freeman on Tuesday. "This includes these new companies but it also includes legacy jitney drivers who serve communities that have been red-lined out of traditional taxicab and limousine service."

The "new companies" the Democratic mayor referenced are Lyft and Uber, San Francisco-based ride-sharing operations in which drivers to use their own vehicles to transport riders, connecting driver and rider via smartphone apps.

Mr. Peduto and Councilman Dan Gilman said Tuesday that they propose amending Chapter 29 of the PUC code to create a new class of regulated transportation service providers.

That would be akin to what the California Public Utilities Commission did in September, when it created a new class of business known as a Transportation Network Company.

The California regulations require ride-share companies like Lyft, Uber and SideCar to be licensed by the public utility commission, complete background and driving record checks for drivers, and provide commercial insurance coverage of $1 million per incident.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said Tuesday that the agency welcomes the mayor's suggestions and looks forward to hearing his recommendations. "But no one has done their due diligence here and come to us with a business model and explained what in the current regulations don't work for them, what changes they would need to see," Ms. Kocher said. "One thing to understand is that any party can petition the PUC for a rule change, or a waiver, and no one has done that."

The heads of Pittsburgh's two largest taxi operators wrote a letter to Mr. Peduto last week, urging him to pass an ordinance cracking down on what they believe are illegal operations. Mr. Peduto said Tuesday he "would not be bullied" and would not consider any legislation that would shut down ride-share companies.

A spokesman for Pittsburgh Transportation Group, which oversees Yellow Cab, the largest taxi company in the area, said CEO Jamie Campolongo was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

During Tuesday's news conference, Mr. Peduto said he has been let down by cab companies -- never using his name for preferential treatment when he calls -- at least 20 times.

"Everyone has their own stories about not being able to get a cab in Pittsburgh," Mr. Peduto said. He added he had used Lyft recently and found the service "impeccable."

"We're thrilled to see Mayor Peduto's support of ride-sharing in Pittsburgh," Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said in a statement. "This recognition shows that Pittsburgh's leaders are at the forefront of innovation and see the value in using technology to improve our cities of the future by making them safer, more affordable and better connected."

"Mayor Peduto and Councilman Gilman are standing up on behalf of the residents, visitors and drivers of Pittsburgh -- and the increased transportation options in this great city," said Rachel Holt, Uber's East Coast Regional general manager.

Lyft and Uber don't necessarily meet everyone's needs, said Mr. Gilman, but he thinks changing the PUC regulations would allow more competition for transportation options in Pittsburgh.

"The regulations in place are too onerous," Mr. Gilman said. "They're structured to what cab companies looked like in the 1980s."

Kim Lyons: or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly.

Kim Lyons: or 412-263-1241. On Twitter: @SocialKimly. First Published February 18, 2014 3:07 PM

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