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Development & Transportation

PUC Rejects Yellow Cab's Fare Hike Request

By a 5-0 vote Thursday the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission rejected one part of Pittsburgh Yellow Cab’s fare hike request and delayed action on the other two provisions.

Pittsburgh Transportation Group, the parent firm of Yellow Cab, wanted to impose a surcharge of up to $8 per trip on Friday and Saturday nights, Sundays and holidays.

Commissioner James Cawley joined his colleagues in rejecting that request, saying the variable surcharge “does not allow a passenger to determine if it is the proper amount,” and because it “appears to be arbitrarily determined.”

But Jamie Campolongo, president and CEO of PTG, said he was “shocked” by the PUC’s decision. 

“Uber and Lyft (transportation network companies) have surge pricing and a moving number, so we were really surprised that they off-handedly denied that," Campolongo said. "It becomes very anti-competitive when you have regulators that heavily regulate us and lightly regulate TNCs in the state. It’s frustrating.” 

He said he’s disappointed the PUC never asked for more information to justify the fare hike.

The company had asked for the surcharge for trips between 5 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m. Saturday, between 5 p.m. and midnight Saturday, and on Sundays and holidays.

But if Lyft and Uber surge their prices during prime times—Friday and Saturday nights—and Yellow Cab cannot impose a surcharge for those times, shouldn’t that make the cost of using a taxi more attractive to riders? 

“In theory that makes sense,” Campologo said. "We thought about it, but we can't continue to have the burden of heavy regulation and then not be able to raise our prices. The PUC can't have it both ways."

Campolongo said their fares “are way lower than anyone else” in comparable cities because they “are artificially low because we haven’t had a rate increase since 2008.”

The PUC decided to send back to its Bureau of Technical Utility Services Yellow Cab’s request to hike its “flag drop rate”—the starting amount on the meter—from the current  $2.25 up to $4, as well as its request to boost the charge for having drivers wait from 25 cents to 55 cents per minute.  Commissioner Cawley says they want the bureau to determine the “justness and reasonableness” of those requests.

Campolongo said they can “easily justify” those increases. 

“We could do not do the flag drop and add a nickel to the mile [rate] and get to the same number, but then people taking long trips are then subsidizing short trips and that’s not what we’re to do,” he said.

He said boosting the waiting minute rate is actually to get drivers to be more willing to wait, and that “cab drivers don’t like to wait because if they’re sitting, they can’t make any money; if they’re moving they can make money.” 

Campolongo said he hopes the PUC will approve the flag drop and the per-minute wait time increases and reconsider the surcharge because he wants to insure that Pittsburgh continues to have a traditional taxi service. 

“If it erodes away and we’re left with a part-time workforce that works when they want to work, then seniors and people with doctor’s appointments and conventioneers will struggle in this city, and that’s our fear,” he said.

The PUC did not indicate when it would rule on the remaining rate hike requests.