Pennsylvania lawmakers push PUC for ride sharing

Lawmakers say constituents want Uber, Lyft services

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HARRISBURG — Before a hearing of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s full five-member board, several Pittsburgh-area legislators testified Thursday to their constituents’ desires for new ride-sharing services to continue operations in Allegheny County.

Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington, said this is “the No. 1 topic of interest in my district” as measured by recent constituent emails and other feedback.

Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft have raised a host of new issues for the PUC and for other regulatory agencies wherever the companies have gone.

The companies match drivers in their own vehicles to passengers via smartphone apps, and have been met with staunch resistance from taxi companies in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.

Both companies have won short-term approval to operate in Allegheny County, after first being ordered to cease and desist operations in June.

At Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers discussed those ongoing regulatory issues, and the appropriate venues for addressing them. Regulatory changes could come through state law passed by the Legislature through the PUC, or through a combination of the two.

“This is the beginning of an ongoing dialogue,” said Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for the PUC, following Thursday’s meeting.

While pressing for the continued legal operation of the ride-sharing companies, legislators also said they wanted the companies to operate safely and to ensure that drivers, passengers and any third parties are fully insured in case of an accident.

Senate Bill 1457, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, would require “adequate liability insurance coverage, implement a thorough background check system and maintain detailed records” as well as other changes for ride-sharing drivers. The bill is in committee; senators return to Harrisburg in mid-September.

PUC chairman Robert Powelson said he wanted to be clear this is eventually an issue that will impact the entire commonwealth.

“This is not a Pittsburgh-centric issue. [Ride-sharing companies are] coming to State College. They’re coming to my area of West Chester, Pa.”

Kate Giammarise: 1-717-787-4254 or or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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