Lyft, Uber determined to continue in high gear

David Pavel used to drive for Lyft, but when an enforcement officer cited him and 22 other ride-share drivers this spring, he decided to stow the pink mustache for a while. Now, after the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement slapped the companies with cease-and-desist orders this week, other drivers also are feeling a little unsure of what happens next.

“They’‍re all saying there aren’t as many requests for rides coming in; they’‍re not sure if they should remove their mustaches,” Mr. Pavel said Wednesday. Lyft cars all display a signature pink mustache on their grills.

The PUC’‍s enforcement arm petitioned for the cease-and-desist orders on June 16 after other enforcement actions, including citing drivers and proposing $1,000 daily fines for each company, failed to deter the ride-share companies from operating in Pittsburgh.

Ever since the San Francisco companies moved in over the winter, regulators have said the companies are violating the law, although there seems to be widespread support among state and local officials for finding a way to adapt to the new technologies. That would require action by the Legislature.

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill Peduto came out strongly in support of following Colorado’s example, which passed legislation last month to allow ride shares.

“I am confident it is one that I and other supporters of new business models will ultimately win,” the mayor said in a prepared statement. “Technologies like ride sharing evolve with the times, and state regulators must, too.”

Both companies strongly condemned the PUC’s action and said they would not comply.

“Despite the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission decision ... to support special interests over consumers, Uber will operate as usual and continue providing Pittsburghers with access to safe, affordable and reliable rides,” Uber said on its blog. “We are disappointed by the PUC’s actions as Uber has been working in good faith with state officials for months to create modern regulations that will give consumers access to the safest rides on the road.”

“This situation is not unique for us,” said Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen. “We’‍ve faced these challenges in several places across the country and had productive discussions as a result.”

Lyft began circulating a petition on social media late Tuesday asking Pennsylvanians to email their support to state representatives. “... Entrenched interests are working against us, and we need your help to make sure Lyft stays in action,” the petition reads, similar wording to petitions Lyft has sent to customers in other states where it has faced opposition.

Unless the PUC overturns the cease-and-desist orders within 30 days, they will remain in effect.

Only state legislation can alter the PUC’s code and the rules concerning motor carriers, which require anyone offering transportation for compensation in Pennsylvania to have a certificate of public convenience.

Mr. Peduto said he plans to seek support across the aisle for legislation to allow ride-share operations.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Corbett weighed in publicly about the issue for the first time Wednesday via a spokesman. “The governor understands that Lyft and Uber provide convenience to people in Pittsburgh, and we would support legislation that would allow these companies to operate,” said Owen McEvoy, Mr. Corbett’s spokesman.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said the agency has been in touch with legislators who are drafting bills to address the issue.

The PUC’s preference would be to create a new category of transportation, “but until the Legislature acts, we are obligated to enforce the law,” she said, adding that the mayor could petition to intervene in the proceedings before the commission but has not done so.

“We appreciate how everyone feels about the action we are taking, but our hands are tied,” she said. “We would be supportive of changes that would allow these companies to legally operate, but we have a responsibility to enforce the law as it stands.”

For his part, Mr. Pavel believes the ride-share companies have too much momentum for the enforcement actions to be effective. “I’‍m a programmer in my day job, and I think of an application as an idea,” he said.

“You can’t really stop an idea. It’‍s going to manifest itself in other forms, no matter what you do.”

Kim Lyons: or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly. First Published July 2, 2014 12:00 AM

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