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Uber Gets Conditional Approval to Operate in Pennsylvania

The ride-sharing service Uber has won conditional license approval across the state, including Pittsburgh.

The two-year experimental service will only go into effect if Uber meets a number of conditions laid out by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission within the next 30 days. One of those conditions is that Uber drivers get insurance coverage for all three stages of their customer interactions: making themselves available via the Uber app, connecting with a passenger and dropping the passenger off at his or her destination.

“So what we’ve required are levels of insurance which are well beyond what our current regulations are for traditional taxis,” said Pamela Witmer, commissioner with the PUC. “We’re requiring primary coverage for stage one and then for stages two and three we are requiring an additional million dollar coverage.”

Witmer said they are also requiring proof that drivers understand that because they are using their personal vehicles for commercial purposes, they may not be covered by their insurance companies. The PUC is requiring Uber to inform drivers that their insurance might not cover them.

“And two, we are requiring that the drivers then provide notification to Uber that they have in fact notified their insurance carrier that they are an independent contractor with Uber,” said Witmer.

If the conditions are met, Uber will be able to operate for the next two years, but Witmer said Thursday’s approval does not negate the need for clarifying legislation on the state level.
“We do think it would be very helpful to us and to the industry to have some very clear statutory roles,” she said.

The PUC's 4-1 vote Thursday will allow the Internet-based service to provide cars  across much of the state. However, the license doesn't include Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority regulates taxi service there and has been sparring with Uber drivers. The agency considers them unlicensed taxis and has been impounding the vehicles.

In a statement, Uber said "the PUC confirmed today that Uber provides the safe and reliable rides that Pennsylvanians need and deserve. We look forward to working with the PUC and the state legislature to get the details right so we can establish a permanent home for uberX ridesharing in all of Pennsylvania."

Uber began operating in the Pittsburgh region in February 2014, and Witmer said the PUC is interested in seeing ride-sharing services flourish in Pennsylvania.

“Because we do think there is a need," she said, "and there certainly is an interest in the public to use this kind of service. So we want to make sure that we are helping to foster new technology, foster new industry, while at the same time being protective of the public.

Last month a state House committee signaled that it was unlikely any measures pertaining to San Francisco-based ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft would pass this year. Democratic state Sen. Robert Matzie said they needed more time to draft the legislation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Larkin got her start in radio as a newsroom volunteer in 2006. She went on to work for 90.5 as a reporter, Weekend Edition host, and Morning Edition producer. In 2009 she became 90.5's All Things Considered host, and in 2017 she was named Managing Editor. She moderates and facilitates public panels and forums, and has won regional and statewide awards for her reporting, including stories on art, criminal justice, domestic violence, and breaking news. Her work has been featured across Pennsylvania and nationally on NPR.
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