Fontana files ride-share legislation in state Senate

Pennsylvania continued on the long and winding ride-sharing road Tuesday, with legislators trying to steer the Public Utility Commission toward a final destination.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, introduced legislation Tuesday morning that would create a new category of transportation company, offering legal status for ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber. Mr. Fontana said he had heard from hundreds of his constituents who support ride sharing in the Pittsburgh area.

“My constituents want an alternate transportation option to what they have now, and they want to see Lyft and Uber in the city,” Mr. Fontana said. His district encompasses several city neighborhoods.

Lyft and Uber connect drivers who are using their own vehicles with riders via a smartphone app. The San Francisco companies have been in the Pittsburgh region for several months, and continue to operate despite a cease-and-desist order issued last week and proposed daily fines of $1,000.

Senate Bill 1457 would create a new “transportation network company” category for ride shares. It would require them to maintain detailed records, establish driver training programs, enforce a zero-tolerance policy on drug and alcohol use, and conduct background checks and driver guidelines. Mr. Fontana said.

Many of these provisions already exist as part of the two companies’ training programs but are not overseen by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Mr. Fontana also filed a resolution in the Senate that mirrors one introduced Monday in the House by Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington. Both seek to expedite Lyft and Uber’s petitions before the PUC, seeking licenses to begin experimental service.

The legislation is unlikely to see action until September, but already has received praise from Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and from the PUC itself.

“We have been working with Sen. Fontana and fully support his legislation that would provide an option for transportation network companies to operate legally within the state,” the PUC statement reads. “We are pleased that he has taken this initiative and introduced this legislation. We look forward to assisting Sen. Fontana as he seeks passage of this important measure in the fall.”

Mr. Fitzgerald, who says he was a Yellow Cab driver in the 1970s and 1980s, issued a statement urging swift passage of the legislation.

“We cannot continue to protect the existing services and allow a monopoly in our region,” Mr. Fitzgerald’‍s statement read. “We are a new Pittsburgh, which is progressive, competitive and welcoming to businesses and residents alike. Now is the time to embrace new ideas and opportunities, and to work cooperatively to allow our region to continue to grow.”

Also Tuesday, the chairwoman of the House insurance committee, Rep. Tina Pickett, R-Towanda, wrote a letter urging the PUC to address what she called “gaps in coverage” in the insurance policies of Lyft and Uber. At a June 23 hearing, representatives of both companies testified about the specifics of their policies, which Ms. Pickett said leave unclear who would provide coverage in the event of an accident.

Ms. Pickett also urged the PUC to examine the background checks on ride-sharing drivers, suggesting that before the PUC grants licenses that FBI criminal history checks be added to checks conducted on drivers. Both companies perform criminal background checks and driver history checks, according to the companies’‍ Web pages.

The PUC responded to Ms. Pickett’‍s suggestions. “As part of any application to provide transportation for compensation in the state, the PUC makes certain an applicant possess adequate insurance to protect consumers. We will do the same for all transportation network company applications, including those filed by Lyft and Uber.”

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

Kim Lyons: or 412-263-1241. On Twitter: @SocialKimly First Published July 8, 2014 12:00 AM

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