Two-pronged attack: Fontana’s plan is the right way to free Lyft and Uber

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State Sen. Wayne Fontana, who wants Pennsylvania consumers to have the transportation choices they’ve been demanding, has a two-part remedy for the standoff between state regulators and the Lyft and Uber ride-sharing services.

In the short term, he and state Rep. Erin Molchany are pressuring the Public Utility Commission to approve the companies’ applications for permits to operate as soon as possible within the existing law.

In the long term, the Brookline Democrat wants to change state law so that rules that cover traditional taxi services don’t apply to the Web-based ride-share companies. Senate Bill 1457, introduced on Tuesday, removes ride-share services from a host of PUC regulation, making them subject to different rules, just as current law makes a distinction between taxicab and limousine services.

Both options are smart responses to demands from constituents, who are tired of poor service from the region’s dominant taxi firm, Yellow Cab. People have been waiting in vain for rides or have paid astronomical fares for too long. The region needs, and has welcomed, the Web-based alternatives offered by Lyft and Uber.

Under Mr. Fontana’s bill, ride-share companies would have to maintain detailed records, establish driver-training programs, have zero tolerance on drug and alcohol use by their drivers and conduct background checks on prospective drivers. Ride-share drivers would have to display a current photograph in their vehicles and the firm would have to provide commercial insurance coverage, beyond what a ride-share driver would hold on a personal vehicle.

These safety measures are valid, but the bill is not perfect. For instance, it would limit vehicles that could be used for ride shares to those 8 years old or less, even though modern cars, vans and SUVs have much longer life spans with proper maintenance.

Overall, though, Mr. Fontana’s approach would allow Lyft and Uber to operate without accruing expensive fines until the Legislature can pass a change in the law, something that even the PUC agrees is necessary.

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