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Taxi Operators Push for Legal Challenge to Ride-Sharing Service Lyft

Ride-sharing Lyft cars have been on Pittsburgh streets for less than a week. You might have seen them—they’re the ones with the bright pink mustaches.

Now, those behind the city’s largest transportation companies are reaching out to Mayor Bill Peduto to crack down on what they say amounts to an illegal taxi service.

James Campolongo, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Transportation Group, which owns Yellow Cab, partnered with the head of Star Transportation Group, Robert Delucia, in writing a letter to Peduto asking him to pass an ordinance to crack down on Lyft.

Campologno said the ordinance would give city police officers the authority to cite vehicles operating like taxis without certification from the Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC).

“Our biggest concern, besides the competitive nature of allowing somebody to come in and not regulating them,” he said, “is the safety of the traveling public and the insurance issues. I mean, you just don’t know who’s coming when you jump in a Lyft car.”

The San Francisco-based ride-sharing smart phone app allows volunteers to drive their own vehicles and chauffer other app users. Drivers are paid on a donation-based system. Campolongo said there is concern over how easy it is to become a Lyft driver – the process takes about seven minutes.

“The criminal background, child welfare, Act 33, Act 44, FBI check, English language test, defensive driving, passenger assistance. All this stuff – if you get that in seven minutes, you’ll make me a believer,” he said.

The company said it does not intend to apply for a commercial broker license with the PUC, a requirement that all taxi services need to fulfill. The company claims that they do not meet the criteria to be considered a taxi service. The PUC said if Lyft continues to operate without the license, they will be violating state law.

“It’s hard to fight a battle when you have somebody that has this arrogant disregard for regulatory issues and law,” Campolongo said. “And you have the PUC, which has limited resources to fix the problem, though they understand it and they know it’s illegal and I know they’ll do what they can.”

Going forward, Campolongo said drivers at Pittsburgh Transportation Group have to continue to do their jobs.

“If they get a broker’s license and they do it right then we’ll compete with them because that’s the playing field,” he said, “but just swooping in, it’ll be very predatory towards Yellow Cab, it’ll be predatory towards all these companies, the small companies, the large companies, the limo companies and the like – it’ll be very predatory.”

Another app-based ride service, Uber, is also launching in Pittsburgh this week.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."
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