PUC prepares for showdown with Lyft, Uber



A hearing today in Pittsburgh will determine whether ride share companies Lyft and Uber will need to apply the brakes in Pittsburgh, or if they can ease on down the road.

At issue are petitions for cease-and-desist orders requested by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission‘‍s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement. If granted, the petitions filed June 16 would force the two San Francisco ride share companies to stop operating in Pennsylvania. Both companies this week filed replies to the petition, seeking its dismissal.

“The draconian relief requested in the petition, i.e., the preclusion of a needed service that is highly valued by consumers in the Pittsburgh area, requires a compelling set of facts and circumstances that are simply not present here,” Uber attorney Karen O. Moury of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney wrote in its answer.

Lyft and Uber match drivers and passengers via smartphone apps, enlisting drivers to use their own cars to transport customers. Under state law, anyone providing transportation for compensation is required to have a certificate of public convenience and carry commercial vehicle insurance. Lyft and Uber X, the Uber service operating here, don’‍t have such certification in Pennsylvania.

 

In its petitions for the cease-and-desist orders, the Public Utility Commission enforcement arm cites, among other reasons, an “immediate need for relief.”

“After the filing of ... numerous complaints before the commission on June 5, Uber brazenly continued, and presently continues, to broker transportation using uncertificated motor carriers,” the cease-and-desist petition states. “Uber’s unlicensed operation poses substantial threats to public safety” and should not be permitted to continue.

The petition against Lyft contained similar language.

Ms. Moury wrote that the cease-and-desist petition should be denied in its entirety, citing Uber’‍s pending applications to operate and arguing that the state has failed to meet the legal standards governing interim emergency relief.

Both Lyft and Uber have applications pending before the PUC to operate experimental service, the designation for transportation options not covered by state law. Numerous protests were filed against each application.

The attorney for Lyft, Adeolu A. Bakare of Harrisburg-based law firm McNees Wallace & Nurick, has argued there is no evidence of safety violations and the cease-and-desist petition “reflects unfair and unbalanced enforcement tactics that do not serve the public interest.”

In his filing, Mr. Bakare cites the PUC’s 2011 decision to grant a certificate of public convenience to Megabus, which offered low-cost bus service between Pittsburgh, State College and Harrisburg beginning in 2010.

Despite its operations and promotion of service predating its application, Mr. Bakare writes, the PUC did not request an emergency cease-and-desist order while Megabus’‍ application was pending.

The request for the cease-and-desist order came a week after the PUC’s enforcement arm proposed daily fines of $1,000 for each company, retroactive to their first dates of operation.

The proposed fines did not appear to serve as a deterrent to either company, with both issuing statements that they would continue to operate in Pennsylvania.

Tomorrow’‍s hearing before administrative law judges Mary D. Long and Jeffrey A. Watson will be held at the PUC’s Pittsburgh office, at 310 Fifth Ave., Downtown. The hearing begins at 9 a.m., and will continue Friday if necessary.

The judges must decide whether to grant the cease-and-desist orders by July 1.

 

Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1241 or on Twitter @SocialKimly.

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