Uber seeking drivers in State College, Reading, Erie

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As it prepares for a hearing in Pittsburgh on Monday before the Public Utilities Commission, Uber has begun seeking drivers in State College, Reading and Erie for its UberX ride sharing service, which also operates in Pittsburgh.

A check of Uber's website finds State College among the cities now available to sign up as a driver.

The company sent out an email blast to Pennsylvania users Wednesday, urging them to contact the PUC and express support for Uber's service, to allow it to "extend beyond just Pittsburgh and Philadelphia," the email reads.

"If granted, this license will mark an important step toward addressing a pressing need for safe, affordable and reliable rides in areas like Harrisburg, State College, Reading, the Lehigh Valley, Gettysburg and Erie, and everywhere in between. The PUC may not let us expand unless they hear from you!" according to the email blast.

A PUC spokeswoman noted this morning that no decision would be handed down Monday. The hearing, at the PUC's Pittsburgh office, will allow two administrative law judges to hear testimony and consider Uber's application to begin experimental service in Pennsylvania, but a decision would not come for several weeks. And, the judges' decision would then have to be voted on by the full PUC board of commissioners.

"We don't have any immediate plans to launch in other cities across Pennsylvania, but will certainly keep you posted if anything develops," said Uber spokesperson Taylor Bennett.

Uber and its rival ride share company, Lyft, 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 smart phone apps, but neither has the commercial license to operate in Pennsylvania, which has led to proposed daily fines of $1,000 and cease-and-desist orders against the companies. At its July 24 meeting, the PUC granted emergency temporary authority for the companies to operate for 60 days, but the PUC says neither has met the conditions of the emergency orders, so the cease-and-desist orders are still in effect.

State College could be a key market for Uber and other ride share companies, with nearby Penn State's 40,000-plus students as potential drivers and passengers.

Bennett said Wednesday the company has submitted proof of compliance and plans to meet all requirements, which include demonstrating that the ride-sharing companies' insurance policies provide primary coverage when drivers are conducting ride-sharing business, and policies must meet PUC standards.

"We're working to amend our insurance policy that should be competed in the next few days.”

If the companies do not meet the requirements of the emergency order by Aug. 25, the order expires, and the companies would have to reapply.

The hearing for Uber's permanent application to begin service begins at 9 a.m. Monday in the PUC's Pittsburgh office, Downtown.

First Published August 14, 2014 12:00 AM

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