Uber forecasts victory amid PUC hearing

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said in a conference call Tuesday that he expects a “win” in Pittsburgh, even as his company’s local attorney was arguing the company should not have to disclose the number of local trips it provided in Pittsburgh over the past few months to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

“We want to show what great transportation looks like, from Pittsburgh to Seoul and all the other cities in between,” he said on a conference call with reporters. The San Francisco ride-sharing company is operating in 170 cities, Mr. Kalanick noted. “I think ultimately progress will win. Our experience in cities around the world shows progress is inevitable.”

Any progress in Pittsburgh will hinge on the PUC, which held the second day of a hearing Tuesday at the PUC’s Pittsburgh office, Downtown, to consider Uber’s application to begin permanent experimental service in Allegheny County and other parts of the state.

Uber and its rival Lyft moved into the county earlier this year. While Lyft has won temporary approval to begin experimental service, Uber is still under a cease-and-desist order. The company has said it expects to have its temporary application approved soon, but a PUC spokeswoman said Tuesday the paperwork was still under review.

The day’s testimony began with Uber attorney Karen Moury again instructing her witness, former Uber Pittsburgh manager Matthew Gore, not to answer questions about the number of rides taken in the Pittsburgh area while the company was under a cease-and-desist order. Ms. Moury argued that information is proprietary.

This action seems to be in direct conflict with a court order requiring Uber to disclose the information issued by the administrative law judges July 31. Ms. Moury told Judge Jeffrey Watson that the company would be open to providing info about the number of trips under seal for the judges’ eyes only.

The information could be relevant, the order states, because one of the things considered in the application process is Uber’s conduct and — because PUC Commissioner James Cawley suggested if rides were given illegally — patrons might be eligible for refunds.

If the judges determine that Uber operating under a cease-and-desist order constitutes unlawful operations, they may choose to deny the application.

An attorney representing several Philadelphia-area taxi companies, Michael Henry, pointed out that under the PUC code, taxis with certificates of public convenience are required to provide information about rates and tariffs as part of the regulatory process.

Mr. Henry called two Philadelphia taxi drivers, Khaled Alvi and Alex Friedman, to testify about the impact UberX was having on their business and on how taxis operate in Philadelphia. It was not clear why the extensive testimony about practices in Philadelphia was presented, since most taxis in Philadelphia are under the oversight of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and not the PUC.

Also on Tuesday, Uber announced it was hiring David Plouffe, former adviser to President Barack Obama, as its senior vice president of policy and strategy.

"Uber has the chance to be a once-in-a-decade, if not a once-in-a-generation, company. Of course, that poses a threat to some, and I’ve watched as the taxi industry cartel has tried to stand in the way of technology and big change. Ultimately, that approach is unwinnable," Mr. Plouffe said in a statement.

The judges’ ruling on Uber’s Pittsburgh status is not expected for several weeks and would require final approval by the PUC commissioners.

The PUC holds its regular monthly meeting Thursday. It is not expected that ride-sharing items will be on that agenda.

It has scheduled a hearing next Wednesday in Pittsburgh for Lyft’s permanent application to begin experimental service. The agency plans a larger hearing involving the entire PUC commission in Harrisburg on Aug. 28.

Kim Lyons: 412-263-1241 or klyons@post-gazette.com. On Twitter: @SocialKimly. First Published August 19, 2014 2:13 PM

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