Pa. cab companies call ride-share services 'unfair' competition

Ronald Winkelvoss has been in the taxi business for 45 years, as a driver, mechanic, dispatcher and now as president of a slew of cab companies operating in and around Philadelphia.

He views the emergence of ride-sharing companies like Lyft and Uber not as a brave new world of competition, but as a throwback to olden times.

“It’s like the Wild West out there,” he testified on Wednesday at a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission hearing here. “A big free-for-all.”

Mr. Winkelvoss said the services, which use smart phone apps to match drivers in private vehicles with those who need rides, don’t have to buy and maintain vehicles, pay dispatchers and adhere to the same regulations as traditional taxi companies.

“It’s unfair competition,” he said.

The hearing, which continues next week, is on Lyft’s applications for PUC approval to permanently operate what it calls “experimental” service in Allegheny County and statewide. Lyft and Uber previously won temporary orders allowing them to operate in the county.

A pair of administrative law judges will make a recommendation to the PUC after the hearings.

Mr. Winkelvoss said allowing Lyft and Uber to operate would be tantamount to deregulating the taxi industry, which he said has been tried elsewhere “and didn’t work out.”

He also slammed the companies’ use of variable pricing, called “surge” or “on demand” pricing, in which rates go up during peak travel periods.

Under PUC regulations, taxi companies aren’t allowed to charge more during peak hours, and Mr. Winkelvoss said he wouldn’t do it even if it were legal “because it would be unfair to the public.”

Mr. Winkelvoss and another Philadelphia-area operator, Alex Friedman, said they object to the insurance coverage carried by the newcomers, which they contend doesn’t cover crashes that might occur when the private drivers aren’t carrying passengers.

Mr. Friedman testified that ride-share drivers aren’t subject to the same rigorous training and background checks as cab drivers.

Jon Schmitz:, 412-263-1868 or on Twitter @pgtraffic.

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