The state Public Utility Commission has taken the first step to make good on a promise from its chairman. On Thursday, its members unanimously approved emergency licenses that allow ride-share companies Lyft and Uber to operate legally in Allegheny County.
The key word is legally.
The firms started offering their Web-based ride services five months ago, but they have faced a barrage of PUC citations, potential fines and cease-and-desist orders since then. All of that ran counter to Chairman Robert Powelson’s comments in February when he said — quite rightly — that the regulatory agency needed to “get out of the way” of the improvements that modern technology and alternative carriers can provide.
Despite its 5-0 decision Thursday, though, the PUC continued to wield its regulatory clout as the commissioners also voted to uphold the punitive orders against both companies. In addition, the decision only means the firms may operate for 60 days, and not until they file the proper insurance paperwork and their rate structures with the commission.
Pittsburghers who have lived with poor service under a near monopoly by the Yellow Cab Co. embraced the new options, and local officials pleaded with the PUC to allow competition in the transportation marketplace.
Here’s hoping the PUC follows through by approving the applications that Lyft and Uber have filed for permanent licenses for so-called “experimental” service. Yellow Cab Co. already was granted that permit for its forthcoming Yellow Z ride-sharing app. The PUC made the right decision for the short term, but its resolution of the status of the ride-share services won’t be complete until that happens.
And in the fall, state lawmakers must follow-up by modernizing Pennsylvania regulations that have been barriers to newcomers and innovation.
First Published July 24, 2014 8:00 PM