Punitive PUC: Newcomers pay for challenging cab monopoly

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Two ride-share companies are paying dearly as they try to clear the bureaucratic hurdles of the Public Utility Commission.

Despite assurances from its chairman that the agency must adapt to allow the flexibility of Web-based ride services, the PUC is aggressively fining Lyft, Uber and their drivers — even as the firms attempt to acquire licenses to operate within the state’s regulations.

Court records show that as of June 5, Lyft had been fined $130,000, a rate of $1,000 per day retroactive to its Feb. 7 kickoff party in Pittsburgh plus another $1,000 for each of the 12 individual trips taken by a PUC enforcement officer in March and April. Uber, which started operating on March 13, was hit with similar citations, totaling $95,000. So far.

The PUC says those fines will continue to mount until the companies are approved for the experimental licenses that they seek. Lyft filed its request on April 8 and Uber on April 14, but they are languishing because of multiple objections filed against the firms.

Eight local lawmakers — Sens. Jay Costa, Matt Smith and Randy Vulakovich and Reps. Harry Readshaw, Robert Matzie, Ed Gainey, Tony DeLuca and Marc Gergely — all wrote professing concern for the safety of ride-share passengers and raising questions about their drivers’ insurance coverage. Formal protests were lodged by the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (formerly the Trial Lawyers Association), the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania and four competing driver service companies, though not the region’s dominant Pittsburgh Transportation Group, which owns Yellow Cab.

None of the same questions were raised nor objections filed, though, after Yellow Cab filed for its own experimental license to operate Yellow X, its version of ride sharing. Hearing no objections to Yellow’s March 13 application, the PUC approved it on May 22.

Meanwhile, Lyft and Uber still are waiting for hearings to be scheduled on their applications. The significant fines keep piling up, along with individual citations against their drivers.

Pittsburghers have endured decades of Yellow Cab’s monopoly, which has meant taxis that are slow to arrive, never arrive or skirt entire city neighborhoods. The same consumers who have been crying for better service have welcomed the arrival of Lyft and Uber.

It’s time for the PUC to move forward on their applications and bring real competition and customer satisfaction to the local transportation market.

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