Lyft, Uber have no plans to leave state despite enforcement
June 17, 2014 10:36 PM
Rob Siravo, 25, of the South Side, drives his Lyft car around Market Square on Feb. 25.
By Kim Lyons / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto reiterated his support for Lyft and Uber on Tuesday, even as the state scheduled hearings to decide whether to issue cease-and-desist orders against the ride-sharing companies.
Mr. Peduto sent a letter to the leadership of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to express his “disappointment” with the agency's actions against the San Francisco ride-share companies. The PUC’s enforcement bureau is seeking to prevent both companies from operating in Pennsylvania.
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 requiring any company providing transportation for compensation to have a certificate of public convenience. Each has an application pending before the PUC for an experimental license, but both began operating in the state well before filing the applications.
Although PUC chairman Robert Powelson has expressed his support for Lyft and Uber in the past, the PUC’s investigation and enforcement arm issued citations to 23 ride-share drivers in March and April, and has proposed additional daily fines of $1,000 per day against each company.
“The PUC enforcement staff's actions are unexpected and disappointing given Uber has been working in good faith with the PUC to create a regulatory framework that allows for modern business models like ride sharing,” Uber said in a statement Tuesday. “We look forward to continuing our work with the PUC to find a permanent home for ride sharing in Pennsylvania.”
Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said Tuesday that the company was disappointed by the cease-and-desist proposal, but continues to keep public safety a primary concern.
She added that despite the actions by the PUC’s bureau of investigation and enforcement, Lyft representatives have had what she termed “heartening” discussions with the PUC commissioners. “We are hopeful we can find a solution that will allow us to continue to grow in Pennsylvania,” Ms. Thelen said.
Mr. Peduto noted in his letter that other states have devised ways to allow ride-sharing companies to operate within the law. “California and Colorado are just two examples of governments that have successfully tackled this problem,” the mayor wrote. “If they can do it, I know we can, too.”
The PUC released a statement thanking Mr. Peduto for his interest but noted changes in Colorado were made at the legislative level, as they would need to be for the law to change in Pennsylvania.
Thus far, none of the state commission’s attempts to bring Lyft and Uber into compliance with state regulations have deterred the companies; both have said they plan to continue to operate, much as they have elsewhere. Both are well-financed, with Uber valued at more than $18 billion, and fast-growing Lyft raising $250 million in April alone.
The city of Miami has gone so far as to impound the vehicles of drivers caught driving for Lyft and UberX, and the state of Virginia issued a cease-and-desist order June 5. Cabbies in London and other cities across Europe brought traffic to a standstill last week to protest Uber’s arrival.
Dave Sutton of advocacy group Who’s Driving You, an initiative of the nonprofit trade group Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, said the ride-share companies’ actions were not surprising. “These companies have demonstrated astonishing arrogance and willingness to flaunt the law,” Mr. Sutton said.
An initial hearing for the cease-and-desist petitions will be held June 26 and 27 at the PUC's local office at 301 Fifth Ave., Downtown. Administrative Law Judges Mary D. Long and Jeffrey A. Watson will preside over the hearings and are scheduled to issue a decision by July 1.
The PUC would then consider the order, if granted, at its next public meeting July 9.
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