Uber, Lyft granted temporary authority to operate in Allegheny County


By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

As the chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission put it Thursday, ridesharing services Lyft and Uber are getting a chance for a makeup exam in the Keystone State.

The commission granted both tech-savvy companies emergency temporary authority to operate in Allegheny County. Lyft and Uber have ferried customers about the Pittsburgh area for months, though, and have defied a cease-and-desist order issued because they were not licensed with the PUC, a requirement to provide transportation for compensation.

While saying he supports innovation, PUC Chairman Robert Powelson referred to the ride-sharing companies’ “past sins” of operating outside regulatory protocol.

“Today, you’re getting the chance to take the mid-term exam over,” Powelson said.

UBER, LYFT OK FOR NOW: The Pennsylvania PUC on Thursday granted Uber and Lyft emergency temporary authority to operate in Allegheny County.

The companies must file proof of insurance and a rate structure with the commission to receive the emergency temporary authority, which is valid for 60 days. Both companies have also filed applications for experimental authority, but they are pending before an administrative law judge.

Lyft applauded the PUC in a statement Thursday.

“Today’s decision marks a significant step toward securing a future for ridesharing in Pittsburgh,” Lyft said. “With this decision, the PUC has recognized that regulations can and should be modernized to allow innovative industries to thrive while maintaining the highest level of public safety.”

The decision is a win for Pittsburgh residents who believe the traditional taxi services are unreliable and who have come to depend upon Uber and Lyft, which use mobile technology to connect riders with drivers.

It’s a victory for the drivers who count on the companies for income.

As the issue percolated over the past couple of months, customers let their voices be heard. State Sen. Wayne Fontana, a Pittsburgh Democrat who has introduced legislation to allow the ride-sharing companies to operate, has said he received hundreds of emails supporting Lyft and Uber.

Fontana wasn’t alone. The PUC’s inbox filled up, too, Powelson said, adding that he appreciated every Pittsburgh resident who sent a letter or an email to the commission about the issue.

“Because we heard you loud and clear here this morning,” he said. “And we recognize that passengers across the commonwealth and particularly Allegheny County made it known that they want alternatives to traditional monopoly taxi-cab services.”

Uber echoed Powelson’s words in a statement.

“Today common sense prevailed, and we applaud the PUC for recognizing the critical need for safe, reliable transportation options in Pittsburgh,” the statement read. “As the Commission confirmed, the people of Pittsburgh have been heard loud and clear, and will continue to have access to the safest ride on the road and the ability to take advantage of the opportunity and flexibility Uber provides.”

The PUC’s decision wasn’t all gumdrops and lollipops, though. Powelson said he was disappointed about how the media portrayed the regulatory agency, which, he said, won’t “cut corners” when it comes to protecting consumers.

“We can’t have (the) Wild, Wild West in the transportation sector here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Commissioners James Cawley also wants to address whether customers should receive refunds or credits for transactions that occurred during periods when the ride-sharing services were in violation of the state’s Public Utility Code.

In a separate vote, commissioners upheld the July 1 cease-and-desist order. It will be lifted once Lyft and Uber meet the contingencies for their ETAs, according to the PUC.

The commission supports a legislative fix the situation, but that hasn’t happened, Vice Chairman John Coleman Jr. said.

“Until that happens,” Coleman said, “the commission and its enforcement staff remain obligated to enforce the law as it is, not as how we would like it to be.”

Staub can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.