Lyft gets temporary PUC approval

Ride-sharing firm OK’d to operate in Allegheny County

As Lyft and Uber take swipes at one another in the media over alleged “dirty tricks,” Lyft has beaten Uber to the finish line in at least one race: It’s now the only ride-sharing company with legal authority to operate in Allegheny County.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued a certificate of public convenience to Lyft Inc. on Thursday afternoon, “to transport as a common carrier, by motor vehicle, persons in experimental service between points in Allegheny County.”

The granting of Lyft’s application “is necessary or proper for the service, accommodation, convenience and safety of the public,” the order states.

San Francisco-based Lyft and its rival ride-sharing company Uber both applied last month for emergency temporary authority to operate in Allegheny County. The PUC commissioners approved the applications at the July 24 meeting, but attached conditions before the emergency orders went into effect.

“Today marks an exciting milestone for the Lyft community,” said company spokeswoman Paige Thelen. “We look forward to continuing to work with the PUC and state Legislature on a permanent solution for community-powered transportation in Pennsylvania.”

The order means that Lyft can operate legally in Allegheny County for 60 calendar days. It is seeking permanent authority to operate in Allegheny County and statewide, and has a hearing before an administrative law judge scheduled to begin Aug. 27.

Lyft and Uber moved into the Pittsburgh area earlier this year, and have tangled with the PUC since. The companies connect drivers in their own vehicles with passengers via smartphone apps, but neither had the proper licenses to operate in Allegheny County, which led to proposed daily fines of $1,000 and cease-and-desist orders against the companies.

To comply with the emergency temporary authority, the ride-sharing companies were required to show their insurance policies provide primary coverage when drivers are conducting ride-sharing business, and that the policies meet PUC standards.

In addition, drivers have to notify their insurance providers that they will be driving for a ride-sharing company, and vehicles have to comply with PUC safety standards: not more than 100,000 miles on the odometer and not more than 8 years old. Criminal background checks are required for all drivers, who must be 21 or older and hold a valid license. PUC placards must be prominently displayed on vehicles.

Uber spokesperson Taylor Bennett said this week the company had submitted proof of compliance, and plans to meet all requirements of the temporary order. “We're working to amend our insurance policy that should be completed in the next few days,” Bennett said.

Also pending when the Legislature returns from recess in September is a bill by state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, that would create an entirely new category for ride shares, “transportation network companies.” Action by the Legislature is required in order to make changes to the PUC code.

In addition to its battles with the PUC, Lyft and Uber have been slugging it out on a national level this week, with Lyft releasing data it claimed show Uber employees canceled 5,000 requests for Lyft rides nationwide for several months, and that Uber employees had actively recruited Lyft drivers.

Uber denied the allegations, and said Lyft drivers had tried to recruit Uber drivers as well, and that Lyft’s drivers and employees canceled 12,900 Uber trips over an unspecified period.

If Uber does not meet the requirements of the PUC emergency order by Aug. 25, it will expire and the company would have to reapply.

The hearing for Uber's permanent application to begin service in Allegheny County and other parts of Pennsylvania begins at 9 a.m. Monday in the PUC's Pittsburgh office, Downtown.

Kim Lyons: 412-263-1241 or On Twitter: @SocialKimly. First Published August 14, 2014 12:00 AM

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