Peduto, Fitzgerald and Fontana urge the PUC to reverse course on ride sharing

As Uber awaits the outcome of its emergency application before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, state and local politicians gathered in Pittsburgh on Thursday to urge action that would make the ride share company and its rival Lyft legal in Pennsylvania.

Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, were joined by ride share drivers and customers at a pep rally of sorts outside the City County Building.

"We can't stand in the way of innovation," said Mr. Fitzgerald. "This is a public safety issue."

He added that his children have used ride shares when trying to get home from Pittsburgh‘‍s South Side after an evening out.

Sarah Birmingham, who works as a server at a Downtown restaurant, told the gathering of about three dozen people that she uses Lyft on a regular basis to get home from work. “I am often carrying a lot of cash, and I don’‍t always feel safe waiting for a bus,” she said. “I would be disappointed if Lyft went away; I hope we can keep it in Pittsburgh.”

Both San Francisco companies continue to operate in the Pittsburgh area despite a July 1 cease-and-desist order from an administrative law judge. Mr. Peduto, Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Fontana have all expressed support for the services, which pair drivers in their own cars with passengers via smartphone apps.

The state Public Utility Commission says the services do not have required licenses to operate in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Fontana introduced legislation this week to change the law to create a new category of transportation provider. He said at the press event the legislation represented a long-term solution, and urged the PUC to consider short-term fixes, such as granting Uber's application to begin emergency service.

"The message is very clear," Mr. Fontana said. "There is a demand for this type of service."

The PUC released a statement Thursday, saying it continues to move forward with its consideration of both ride share companies‘‍ applications to begin experimental service. “We will do so as quickly as we can while still preserving due process” as the law requires.

The applications are pending because protests were filed against them, which the PUC must consider.

“We appreciate Sen. Fontana’s efforts in crafting legislation that would provide another option under which transportation network companies may operate in Pennsylvania,” the PUC’‍s statement read. “The PUC has maintained since March that a legislative solution for transportation network companies is the best answer for Pennsylvania.”

The group was joined by Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, and Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon, who also voiced their support. Mr. Mustio, who owns an insurance company, said his son drives for one of the ride share companies.

Mr. Peduto encouraged Pittsburghers to use the services, and said he has, both in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

It is unlikely that any legislation would see action before September. A PUC spokeswoman said Thursday that a decision on Uber‘‍s emergency application was expected sometime next week. As of Thursday afternoon, Lyft had not yet filed an emergency application.

Kim Lyons: or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly

First Published July 10, 2014 12:00 AM

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