The same enforcement officer who cited nearly two dozen ride-sharing drivers earlier this year has issued 10 new citations to different drivers, in a sign that the state Public Utility Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement continues to crack down on Lyft and Uber in Pittsburgh.
Five Lyft drivers and five Uber drivers were each cited by Charles Bowser for operating “as a passenger carrier without a certificate of public convenience by transporting a passenger for compensation,” according to the filings at two separate district magistrate offices.
“This whole citation thing, I feel like it’s bullying,” said Uber driver Lamar D. Fields, 38, who was informed of the citation against him Wednesday, when a reporter contacted him. A court worker at District Justice Eugene Ricciardi’s office on the South Side on Wednesday said the seven citations there had not yet been loaded in the docket.
An actor and full-time stay-at-home father, Mr. Fields of East Liberty said he’s been driving for a couple of months and enjoys being able to work at night.
He maintained that ride-sharing companies provide a service, as well as an opportunity for people like him who want to work at their convenience.
“What’s wrong with offering the public another source of transportation?” he said, adding later, “All I’m trying to do is provide for my family. [Uber] was allowing me to be able to do that.”
The other cited drivers couldn’t be reached by the Post-Gazette on Wednesday. Mr. Fields was among seven drivers whose citations were filed at Justice Ricciardi’s office, for giving ride-sharing trips in the city between June 18 and last Thursday.
In addition to the citations at Justice Ricciardi’s office, three citations were filed with District Justice Anthony W. Saveikis, for trips to and from Pittsburgh International Airport on June 18 and June 24.
The PUC has said the ride-share services — which use smartphone apps to connect riders to drivers operating their own personal vehicles — violate state law. Uber and Lyft each has an application pending before the PUC for an experimental license, but both began operating in the state well before filing the applications.
Proposed daily fines of $1,000 and a July 1 cease-and-desist order from an administrative law judge did not result in any slowdown in the ride-sharing companies’ Pittsburgh operations, and it does not appear the most recent citations will have an impact, either.
“As we work toward policy progress, we’ll stand with drivers every step of the way, defending any citations and covering relevant costs,” Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said Wednesday.
“Any attempt to hamper residents’ and visitors’ ability to get around town does nothing but hurt the people of Pittsburgh,” said Taylor Bennett, Uber spokesperson. “We fully stand behind our driver partners and will cover any financial or legal costs associated with these unjust citations.”
The policy progress Ms. Thelen referred to includes legislation filed by state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, on July 8. Senate Bill 1457 would create a new “transportation network company” category for ride shares.
It would require them to maintain detailed records, establish driver training programs, enforce a zero-tolerance policy on drug and alcohol use, and conduct background checks and driver guidelines.
Many of these provisions already exist as part of the two companies’ training programs but are not overseen by the PUC.
Mr. Fontana also filed a resolution in the Senate that mirrors one introduced in the House by Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington. Both seek to expedite Lyft and Uber’s petitions before the PUC, seeking licenses to begin experimental service.
The legislation is unlikely to see action until September, but has received support from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, among others.
Also pending is Uber’s application for emergency status. It awaits a decision from the PUC commissioners. The PUC’s next public meeting is next Thursday.
Kim Lyons: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly. Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944. Twitter: @molly_born. First Published July 16, 2014 12:15 PM