Peduto slams PUC over ride-sharing suits

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – Mayor Bill Peduto is defending two ride-sharing companies that the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement has threatened with fines and cease-and-desist orders.

The PUC filed the cease-and-desist orders Monday against San Francisco-based ride-share companies Lyft and Uber. The companies and others like them use smartphone apps to dispatch drivers who use their personal vehicles to give passengers rides for a fee. The PUC contends the companies are operating illegally as transportation brokers and that the drivers are not licensed as motor carriers and may not be properly insured.

Peduto blasted the PUC in his letter Tuesday, writing, “The role of government is to facilitate innovation and growth, not to stand in its way.” He called on the PUC to let the companies operate while state regulations are developed to govern the businesses, which don’t fit neatly within rules written for taxicabs and other motor carriers.

“In reality, these services are not going anywhere anytime soon because the people, through their wallets and smartphones, have demanded it,” Peduto wrote.

He noted that California and Colorado have developed regulations for ride-sharing companies.

“The changes Mayor Peduto refers to in Colorado took place at the legislative level. We look forward to working with the legislature and implementing any changes to existing law,” PUC press secretary Jennifer Kocher said in an email to The Associated Press. She also said Peduto is welcome to petition the PUC to intervene in the cease-and-desist proceeding, which the PUC hopes will be heard by an administrative judge on June 26.

Uber and Lyft both said they were “disappointed” in the PUC’s actions, which followed threats last week to fine 23 drivers cited earlier this month $1,000 each, and to fine both companies $1,000 a day, retroactively. Lyft started up in Pittsburgh in February and Uber in March.

“This decision is not in the best interest of Uber partners, who have been using the technology to make a living, create new jobs and contribute to the economy – or residents who rely on Uber for access to safe, affordable and reliable transportation alternatives,” Uber said.

“Despite the claim that their arguments are rooted in public safety, Lyft’s safety criteria far exceed what is required by the PUC, as demonstrated by our $1 million commercial liability policy that is more than 30 times higher than the local requirement for taxis,” the company said in a statement.

Regulators in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere are attempting to stop the companies from operating there, or to submit to regulations.

California passed statewide ride-sharing regulations last year through its public utilities commission, while Colorado passed a law earlier this month to regulate the businesses.

In Colorado, drivers must pass criminal background and driving history checks. The drivers’ cars must pass vehicle inspections and be clearly marked.

Insurance was a key issue in Colorado and elsewhere, as it’s not clear whether a company’s insurance or the driver’s will cover an accident – especially when drivers are working but between fares.

 

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