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Ride-Sharing Services Examined as Part of Pennsylvania’s Transportation Future

Ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber have been granted temporary operating licenses in the Pittsburgh area, but it’s still up the Public Utility Commission to determine if they should be granted permanent permission to operate, and whether regulatory changes are needed to fit them into the transportation landscape.

A PUC hearing Thursday tackled the issue.

“I think that it would be embarrassing if we step back and say ‘no, we’re not going to accept this innovation,’” said state Rep. Erin Molchany.

Molchany and several other state lawmakers were the first to address the PUC.

“We seek input to help us, as a commission, go through this process of potentially updating some of our antiquated regulations,” said PUC Chairman Robert Powelson, “and when I say antiquated, I look at some of our processes and procedures that date back to the 1950s.”

But members of the PUC said they can’t do it alone.

“We desperately need legislation which would define how these carriers operate,” said PUC commissioner James Cawley.

To that end, a bill has been introduced by state Sen. Wayne Fontana.

“While I support legalizing and encouraging the growth of Pennsylvania’s ride share industry, it’s also important that we properly regulate and make this new transportation alternative safe,” said Fontana.

His bill would require ride-share companies to establish driver training programs, have a zero tolerance alcohol and drug use policy, have adequate liability insurance coverage, implement a thorough background check system and maintain detailed records.

But not everyone is on the side of allowing services like Uber and Lyft to operate. One concern is that the companies will drive out smaller, regulated taxi companies.

“It paints a disturbing picture when multi-million dollar, multi-billion dollar companies are ignoring regulatory requirements designed to protect the public from things such as price gouging, inadequate insurance, dangerous drivers, dangerous vehicles and discrimination,” said James Campolongo, president of the Pennsylvania Taxicab and Paratransit Association.

He said ride-sharing services leave out the elderly, disabled, less affluent and anyone without access to a smart phone. Officials with the taxi and limousine industry agreed that regulatory changes are needed in the state, but all said they should be changed in a way that levels the playing field and doesn’t give one type of company a leg up over another.

“As the commission is addressing these commercial carrier issues, we urge you not to act hastily to adopt new rules,” said Alfred LaGasse, CEO of the National Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association. “Several communities are now experimenting with this regulatory change regarding Uber and Lyft and the commission could benefit greatly from observing those regulations to see how they’re working and what problems they’re creating.”

Both Lyft and Uber’s temporary operating licenses are for 60 days. Lawmakers said they hope they can move on legislation this fall, though legislative days are numbered. Two administrative law judges are expected to rule on ride sharing services next month.