Pennsylvania PUC cracks down on Lyft, Uber drivers

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The battle for Pittsburgh’s passengers has heated up, with the Public Utility Commission issuing its first citations since two ride-share companies moved into the area earlier this year.

Court records show PUC enforcement officer Charles Bowser cited 23 drivers of ride-share companies Lyft and Uber between March 31 and April 21. Each driver is cited for operating a passenger carrier without a certificate of public convenience. The citations, issued through the office of District Justice Gene Ricciardi, were all dated April 22, and are being mailed to drivers.

According to court records, the trips cited by Mr. Bowser included four to 777 Casino Drive, which is the Rivers Casino; three trips to 300 West Station Square Drive, which is the Sheraton Station Square hotel; and six trips to 600 Commonwealth Place, which is the Wyndham Grand hotel.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said the enforcement officer’s actions — taking rides, then citing the drivers — were not atypical for enforcement procedures.

None of the cited drivers contacted by the Post-Gazette returned calls seeking comment Friday.

The PUC issued a press release Friday reminding drivers that it is “unlawful to transport any passenger for compensation without holding a PUC Certificate of Public Convenience. Compensation can include ‘suggested donations.’ ”

Lyft and Uber, two San Francisco-based companies, have enlisted drivers in Pittsburgh to use their personal vehicles to offer taxilike services that connect drivers and riders via smartphone apps. The companies have been compared to illegal jitneys by opponents, which includes Yellow Cab Co., the area’s largest taxi company.

Lyft has said since its drivers are not paid, but rather receive suggested donations from passengers, it was not subject to the PUC regulations for passenger transportation companies.

On Friday, Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said the company was aware of the citations and would stand behind any cited drivers, including paying any fines or related legal costs. She did not know how many of the 23 drivers cited worked for Lyft. “We’ve been in close contact with our drivers to let them know we are here for them,” she said.

Matthew Gore, general manager of Uber Pittsburgh, said the company had no information about which or how many drivers may have been ticketed.

“That said, if one of our partners were to receive a ticket because the PUC wants to protect entrenched interests, we absolutely stand by them and that includes reimbursing them for any fines or court fees,” he said. “In over 100 cities around the world, Uber is delivering safe, reliable and affordable transportation options that consumers and drivers have come to love. At times, it takes the public voice to get officials to act in the best interests of their citizens and not special interests — it’s the people calling for action, not Uber.”

Yellow Cab president Jamie Campolongo said Friday he felt sorry for the cited drivers. “It’s not the people that are driving that are the problem, it’s Lyft and Uber. Just like when people complain about the cab companies, it’s not the cab drivers’ problem, it’s my problem.”

Lyft and Uber both have applications before the state of Pennsylvania to obtain certificates of public convenience to operate their services in Pittsburgh, as does Yellow Cab, which is seeking to launch its own version of a ride share, called Yellow X. The earliest the PUC would rule on the matter is its next public hearing May 22.

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

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