Lyft hearing focuses on insurance issues

The second day of testimony in Lyft’s hearing before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s administrative law judges dealt mainly with insurance issues, and how passengers would be protected in the event of an accident.

But at one point, Judge Mary Long closed the courtroom so that Lyft’s director of public policy, Joseph Okpaku, could answer questions about the number of rides Lyft provided while it was under a cease-and-desist order. Like Uber’s attorney did in its hearing last month, Lyft attorney Adeolu Bakare claimed such information was proprietary and releasing it could put it at a competitive disadvantage.

Like Uber’s action at its hearing, Lyft’s action Wednesday seems to be in direct conflict with a court order requiring the company to disclose the information, which was issued by the administrative law judges July 31.

At one point, Mr. Bakare sought to have information about Lyft’s insurance policy’s terms and conditions protected as well, but Judge Long told him not providing information about the policy would “almost certainly result in dismissal of your application.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s attorney, Frederick Frank, attempted to protest the judge’s decision to close the courtroom during the testimony about the trips, but Judge Long declined to hear Mr. Frank, saying he was not a party to the proceedings.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher explained after the hearing that the judges ruled to make that portion of the hearing private in order to receive the information and allow the hearing to move forward, not because of whether the information was truly proprietary. Judge Long said she would issue a ruling on the protected information.

Lyft and its rival ride-sharing company Uber moved into the Pittsburgh area earlier this year and have tangled with the PUC since. Neither company had the proper licenses to operate in Allegheny County as an alternative to taxicabs, which led to proposed daily fines of $1,000 and cease-and-desist orders against the companies.

Both are now operating under temporary authority in Allegheny County. The ride-sharing companies connect drivers in their own vehicles with passengers via smartphone apps, which has led to questions about insurance coverage.

Mr. Okpaku explained in Wednesday’s hearing that Lyft’s insurance acts as excess to a driver’s personal policy, and would act as the primary policy if the driver’s personal insurance denied a claim.

There are three periods during which Lyft considers its insurance policy active: when a driver has the app open but does not have a passenger, when the driver is en route to pick up a passenger, and during the ride itself.

Samuel Marshall, with the Pennsylvania Insurance Federation trade organization, questioned Mr. Okpaku at length about the details of Lyft’s policy, and asked how the company verifies its drivers have insurance coverage.

Mr. Okpaku said Lyft asks for proof of insurance in the form of the insurance card provided to drivers. It does not further verify the policy, he testified.

Mr. Bakare introduced several dozen comments from Pennsylvania residents that he said demonstrated a need for Lyft’s service in Allegheny County and statewide.

He sought to include comments from online newspaper articles as well, but Judge Long said the news authenticity and identities of the news articles’ commenters were not verified.

The hearing was scheduled to continue next Wednesday.

Kim Lyons:, 412-263-1241 or on Twitter @socialKimly.

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