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Lawmakers from Pittsburgh seek interim permits for Uber, Lyft

| Monday, July 7, 2014, 11:09 p.m.
In this Jan. 4, 2013 photo, Lyft driver Nancy Tcheou drives in San Francisco, Friday. Fed up with traditional taxis, city dwellers are tapping their smartphones to hitch rides from strangers using mobile apps that allow riders and drivers to find each other. Internet-enabled ridesharing services such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar are expanding rapidly in San Francisco, New York and other U.S. cities, billing themselves as a high-tech, low-cost alternative to cabs.

Legislators from Pittsburgh are hoping companion resolutions in the House and Senate can influence state regulators to issue provisional operating permits for two ride-sharing companies despite a cease-and-desist order.

State Rep. Erin Molchany, D-Mt. Washington, introduced a House resolution on Monday asking the Public Utility Commission for temporary permits.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, said he will introduce a bill on Tuesday that would permit ride-sharing statewide, but he's not sure whether legislative action can happen before later this year. Instead, he also intends to introduce a Senate resolution asking the PUC for temporary permits — mirroring the resolution by Molchany.

“The resolutions ask the PUC to issue the temporary permits for these folks to operate until the legislation is passed,” Fontana said. “The legislation sets criteria for drivers, insurance, compensation and other kinds of things. I'm going to ask they do this based on the criteria in the legislation.”

The legislation sets up a new kind of “transportation network company” — a legal definition for Uber and Lyft, which connect passengers and drivers using Internet applications, versus traditional taxi services.

Lyft and Uber, both based in San Francisco, continued to offer rides over the weekend after two administrative judges last week ordered them to halt operations until they receive operating permits from the PUC.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said no new citations were filed over the weekend. But the PUC's staff has asked for more information from Uber's subsidiary Raiser PA, after it filed an application with regulators to allow it to begin operating legally in Allegheny County on an emergency basis.

“It's still under consideration, but we need additional information,” Kocher said.

“The commission has maintained that it would be supportive of any legislative changes that create a category for these companies to operate, but until then we have the obligation to enforce the law that exists,” Kocher said.

Six companies have applied for PUC operating permits: two each from Lyft and Uber for Pittsburgh and services in the state; and from Cranberry Taxi (also known as Veterans Taxi) for state operations, and CheckerX from Philadelphia.

Fontana said it's unclear to him what further information the PUC may need from Raiser, unless it's proof of insurance coverage. “They have to provide that if they want to do all of this. They have to provide that.”

Meanwhile, Uber began offering temporary fare cuts in New York City to step up competition with cab services.

Uber reduced fares by 20 percent in New York for its UberX service, making it cheaper than a city taxi, the company said on Monday on its website. An UberX ride from New York's Grand Central to the Financial District would cost $22 under the new fares, compared with $24 for a city taxi, Uber said. The lower prices will be in place for a limited time.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said the company has offered price cuts in more than 40 cities but not Pittsburgh.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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