PUC sets hearing dates for Lyft, Uber permanent licenses

Two Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission administrative law judges will hold separate hearings for Lyft and Uber in Pittsburgh next month to hear testimony on why the companies should be granted permanent licenses to operate in Allegheny County and statewide.

The companies have applied for “experimental” service licenses, since the type of transportation they provide is not covered by current PUC code.

First will be the hearing for Lyft, on Aug. 7 and 8, at the PUC’s office in Pittsburgh. The company filed two applications, one to conduct service in Allegheny County, the other to operate on a statewide basis. The applications have drawn protests from several interested parties in Philadelphia, including the Philadelphia Parking Authority and several taxi companies.

Taxi and limousine companies in Philadelphia are overseen by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, but in the rest of the state, the PUC has jurisdiction over motor carriers.

In its protest of Lyft’s application, the Philadelphia Parking Authority states it believes Lyft’s “proposed service will constitute either taxicab service or limousine service,” and that the company is trying to circumvent the parking authority by applying directly to the PUC. “The Authority believes that it is the only Commonwealth agency authorized to review an application of this nature within its Philadelphia jurisdiction,” the protest states.

Michael S. Henry represents several taxi companies in the eastern part of the state that are protesting both Lyft’s and Uber’s applications, and Executive Transportation Inc., which has an office in Bellevue. It is one of two Western Pennsylvania taxi companies protesting Lyft’s application. The other is Ambridge-based JB Taxi, which operates County Taxi Cab. The attorney for JB Taxi, David Donley, declined to comment Monday.

Mr. Henry said what Lyft and Uber are seeking to do is broker transportation services, not to provide the services themselves. The companies both enlist drivers using their own cars to provide transportation to passengers via smartphone apps.

“This is not experimental, just illegal,” Mr. Henry said. “They have technology that works really well, which makes it innovative, but it’s still illegal.”

Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, filed Senate Bill 1457 this month that would create a new category of transportation company, offering legal status for ride-sharing companies.

Last week the PUC granted emergency temporary authority to both companies to operate for 60 days in Allegheny County, but with conditions attached. As of Monday, the companies had not presented documentation to the PUC showing they were in compliance with the conditions, said PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

To comply with the emergency temporary authority, the ride-sharing companies’ insurance policies must provide primary coverage when drivers are conducting ride-sharing business, and policies must meet PUC standards, among other provisions.

Neither company has been deterred by the cease-and-desist orders handed down before the July Fourth holiday weekend, which also were upheld by the PUC last week. Despite proposed fines of $1,000 per day and citations and fines against individual drivers, the companies have continued to operate. The cease-and-desist orders remain in effect until the provisions of the emergency temporary applications are met.

A hearing for Uber’s application to begin experimental service will be held Aug. 18 and 19, also at the PUC’s Pittsburgh office.

In its application, Uber’s wholly-owned subsidiary Rasier PA seeks to begin service as a ride-sharing network in Allegheny County. A second application, which will be heard as part of the same proceeding, includes a petition “to expand its territory as an experimental ride sharing network service” in Pennsylvania, excluding points “originating or terminating in the counties of Beaver, Clinton, Columbia, Crawford, Lawrence, Lycoming, Mercer, Northumberland and Union.”

Kim Lyons: klyons@post-gazette.com, 412.263.1241 or on Twitter @SocialKimly. First Published July 28, 2014 12:00 AM

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