PUC advised to approve Lyft, Uber

Bureau to recommend go-ahead for ride-share operations in city

HARRISBURG — After months of battling ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber, at its meeting today the state Public Utility Commission’‍s Bureau of Technical Utility Services will recommend the board grant the ride-sharing companies emergency licenses to operate in Allegheny County.

It will be up to the commissioners to accept, reject or modify the bureau’‍s recommendations.

Both companies have been operating in Pittsburgh since late winter, but without the PUC’‍s oversight. A PUC enforcement officer issued more than two dozen citations to Lyft and Uber drivers, and the agency’‍s bureau of investigation and enforcement proposed daily fines of $1,000 for the companies. On July 1, a panel of administrative law judges issued a cease-and-desist order against Uber and Lyft.

The administrative law judges are recommending the board approve the cease-and-desist orders, but the orders will be lifted once the companies become compliant with the emergency temporary authority. The proposed fines are still pending before the judges.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, and state Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mount Washington, both filed resolutions in their respective legislative bodies earlier this month, urging the PUC to expedite the companies’‍ applications. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald also have asked the PUC to allow the companies to operate locally without legal encumbrance.

Representatives for Lyft and Uber did not return requests for comment Wednesday. But a PUC spokeswoman said the agency received some 300 emails from supporters of Uber, after the company sent out an email blast to Pittsburgh users of the service Wednesday morning.

“Urge the PUC to support consumer choice and transportation options,” the email read. It included contact information for all the PUC commissioners, its chairman, vice chairman and executive director.

Meanwhile, another app-based transportation option is planning to expand into Pittsburgh: Hailo, founded in the U.K. in 2011 by a group of London taxi drivers, connects existing taxi drivers with passengers.

“While we can’t confirm timing, we can promise that when we do expand to Pittsburgh, we will be doing so in a way that supports the community with licensed and insured drivers operating legally,” said Kevin Hatfield, Hailo North America co-president, in an email.

Yellow Cab president James Campolongo said he plans to meet with Hailo representatives, after they reached out to him.

“I think this is the one Lyft and Uber really have to watch out for,” Mr. Campolongo said.

While it is smartphone-based, Hailo operates differently than the ride-sharing apps. Lyft and Uber connect drivers in their own cars with passengers, but Hailo connects existing taxi drivers with passengers. A Hailo user sets the pickup location, and a nearby taxi driver accepts the electronic request. It speeds up the tried-and-true process of flagging down a cab. Passengers can complete the transaction and pay, all within the app.

The PUC has not been informed of any intentions by Hailo, a spokeswoman confirmed.

The PUC board meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday. The meeting will be live streamed at the PUC’‍s website: www.puc.pa.gov/​about_puc/​live_streaming_video.aspx.

Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1241. Twitter: @SocialKimly. First Published July 23, 2014 12:00 AM

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