PUC Judges Recommend Commission Deny Uber’s Permanent Application
Two Public Utility Commission Administrative Law judges may have recommended that the full Commission deny Uber’s application for a permanent license, but the ride sharing company doesn’t need to slam on the brakes quite yet.
“After weighing the evidence in the cases of the Uber applications that were before the Commission, our administrative law judges wrote recommended decisions addressing each of the issues in the case,” Denise McCracken, PUC Deputy Press Secretary, said. “These recommended decisions are denying the applications by Uber.”
Judges Mary Long and Jeffrey Watson found that Uber showed “disregard” for presiding officers when it ignored the July 31st cease-and-desist order.
“This applicant did not sustain its (Uber’s) burden of demonstrating that it is also committed to protecting the public – both drivers and passengers,” the decision reads. “Therefore, we find that it is not in the public interest to grant the applicant a certificate of public convenience.”
But McCracken said this ruling is just one stage in the process, not a conclusive decision. Uber has 15 days to file “exceptions” – or objections – to the judge’s decision.
“This is not final as of yet – commissioners can either accept, reject or modify these decisions by the administrative law judges,” McCracken said. “Any commission order, then, can of course be appealed to the state’s commonwealth court.”
Taylor Bennett, Uber’s spokeswomen, said in a written statement the ruling reinforces the need for the state to pass legislation that “embraces innovation and gives all Pennsylvanians more choice to safe rides.”
“Current regulations have failed to catch up to a 21st century economy,” Bennett wrote. “Which is why we call on the State Legislature to take matters into their own hands and bring ridesharing to the Commonwealth.”
State Senator Wayne Fontana (D – Allegheny) has tried – he drafted legislation in July that would create a “transportation network company” with driver-training programs and a zero-tolerance alcohol policy for drivers.
But Fontana noted his bill is currently sitting in the Consumer Protection Committee in the Senate and has yet to be scheduled for a vote. The two-year session ends this month and without passage, Fontana would have to reintroduce the bill in 2015.
He said he sees this ruling as an indicator to the General Assembly that they should act quickly on his legislation.
“One of the reasons that I’m pushing to get regulations put into place is so we don’t have to keep going back to the judges and to the PUC asking for temporary licenses and extensions and that sort of thing,” Fontana said.
McCracken said the ruling will not affect the company’s current emergency temporary authority in Allegheny County. Uber has filed another petition to extend this authority.
“We would agree with new legislation that would create a new category in Pennsylvania which would provide more oversight for these types of companies, because right now as our current regulations stand, there is no set category for this type,” McCracken said.
The PUC worked with Fontana to create the legislation and openly endorses it.
However, the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania showed support for Thursday’s decision with a written statement from their President, Ronald Blount.
“Our members are pleased that the Commission’s [Administrative Law Judges] are focused on public safety, Blount said. “We are hopeful that the full Commission will embrace this decision and, again, compel all services to play by the same rules.”
The statement went on to read that Uber should be denied its request because it lacks adequate insurance, education and training for its drivers.
As for Lyft, the other ridesharing entity operating in Pittsburgh – McCracken said their application is separate, and the judges are still reviewing it. She was not able to give a timeline for that decision.
McCracken said she expects a final vote from the Commission on the application for permanency by the end of the year.