By Kim Lyons and Robert Zullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pennsylvania cease-and-desist orders issued this week will remain in effect on ride-share companies Lyft and Uber through the Independence Day weekend, despite a last-minute effort by officials to intervene.
Uber’s subsidiary has filed an application for emergency temporary authority before the state Public Utility Commission, a move that might have it rolling sooner than any possible legislation could. Several state legislators have legislation in the works to change the PUC code, but nothing is expected before September.
“This ETA is necessary due to the immediate need of the riding public in Allegheny County to be able to use an innovative, game-changing technology that permits residents and visitors to access safe, economic and reliable transportation,” the Uber petition states.
Under the PUC code, the commission “may, without hearing, grant temporary certificates of public convenience in emergencies, pending action on permanent certificates.”
Uber and Lyft have applications pending before the PUC to start experimental transportation services in Pennsylvania. Since protests were filed against the applications, state law requires the commissioners to conduct hearings.
Uber’s emergency application references an experimental transportation service the commissioners approved for Yellow X, a forthcoming ride-share service from Yellow Cab, the largest taxi company in the Pittsburgh area. That application was approved without protests.
“It is beyond dispute that ride-sharing network services fill significant gaps in the transportation infrastructure in Allegheny County,” the petition reads. “In short, as rider after rider will attest, Allegheny County needs Raiser-PA’s proposed service.”
Raiser PA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber Technologies Inc. in Pennsylvania.
State Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington, wanted to introduce a resolution Thursday in the state House asking for special PUC approval to allow the services to operate legally during the holiday weekend. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto praised the idea in a statement Thursday morning.
But one of the more mundane twists in the ongoing ride-share saga thwarted the effort: The House clerk’s office was closed Thursday in advance of the Independence Day holiday.
After discovering the clerk was unavailable, Ms. Molchany said she plans to introduce the resolution Monday when state offices reopen. It’s unclear how that might conflict with Uber’s petition, which also would see no action until Monday.
Ms. Molchany said her resolution asks the PUC to approve the ride-share companies’ experimental applications to begin service. She wants the PUC to expedite the process.
“They can take steps to move this along,” she said. “I want to make it clear to them that there is some urgency to this situation.”
A panel of PUC administrative law judges issued the cease-and-desist orders against the companies this week because the ride-share businesses haven’t received required state certifications. The San Francisco-based ride-sharing companies connect drivers using their own vehicles with riders via a smartphone app and serve as an alternative to taxis.
Mr. Peduto, a vocal supporter of ride-sharing services, consistently has backed efforts to allow ride-share services in the city and again Thursday offered harsh criticism of the PUC’s enforcement actions.
“The PUC ... could either adapt the rules so they could recognize the changes that technology brings, or they could shut it down, and they chose to shut it down,” the mayor said.
“We tried to work with the PUC to adapt the rules. That didn’t work, so now we’re going to the state Legislature, and what we’re finding is bipartisan support about having Pennsylvania embrace innovation, not just try to stifle it.”
Mr. Peduto advised against flouting the judges’ decision.
“If the riders are doing it, they’re doing it at their own risk,” he said.
However, he said the purpose of government is to change rules and regulations to fit the times.
“Our goal is to be able to get the state to realize now that the decisions that were made by the PUC will harm places like Pittsburgh, not help us,” he said.
A PUC spokeswoman said Thursday that Uber’s emergency application was under review.
The continuing dispute over the ride-sharing services has generated considerable interest among readers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. An editorial Thursday in the newspaper said state officials have been “slow to respond” to calls for legislation permitting the services and called for efforts to “make ride sharing a reality.” Following are excerpts from readers’ comments posted at post-gazette.com in response to that editorial:
“… You can’t get a legal taxi to come pick you up on demand in most of the city anymore. Yellow Cab will pretty much only pick you up if you walk to someplace with a taxi stand, and Classy Cab doesn’t have enough cars to be effective. The rest of the on-demand companies are run by the same companies, so it’s just more of the same.”
“I have lived in the city 50 years and have never had a hard time getting a taxi. There is no REAL need for ride-share companies. There is no benefit to having unregulated, unchecked and non-tax enforceable people movers running around in this city.”
“Modern cities need alternative transportation vs. owning your [own] vehicle. The current Yellow Cab model does not meet this need … How many of the people who have sided AGAINST ride sharing are actual frequent cab users? I have a difficult time believing anyone uses Yellow Cab on a regular basis and finds their service acceptable.”
“The only place in the tri-state area that I was able to get a taxi was at the airport! If you are at the Waterfront in Homestead and need a cab to take you to downtown Pittsburgh you will probably die of old age before a cab picks you up!”
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