23 citations filed against drivers for app-based ride services

| Thursday, April 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Nearly two dozen drivers of the controversial app-based ride services Lyft and Uber are facing tickets for operating without approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, officials said on Wednesday.

Court records show 23 citations were filed on Tuesday at District Judge Eugene Riccardi's office in the South Side. A PUC compliance officer cited the drivers between March 31 and April 21 by taking a variety of rides, including pickups at the Wyndham Grand, Rivers Casino and Station Square.

The drivers receiving tickets range in age from 24 to 77 and live throughout the region.

Ticketed drivers could not be reached for comment or did not return calls.

“We're willing to work with the companies, but we do have existing regulations we have to enforce,” PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said.

The citations are the first in the state against drivers for those companies since they began operating in Pittsburgh in February, Kocher said. Court officials said the cited drivers will receive tickets in the mail.

Spokeswomen for Lyft and Uber said they were unaware of citations issued to their drivers.

Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said the company would cover the cost of potential fines connected to the citation.

“Absolutely, we stand behind our drivers,” Thelen said.

Uber spokeswoman Natalia Montalvo said the company “will stand behind our partners and will work with the issuing authority to resolve” the tickets.

She wouldn't clarify if that meant the company would cover the cost of potential fines.

The revelation of the tickets happened on the same day that Yellow Cab Co. president Jamie Campolongo met with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to discuss the app-based businesses. Peduto has been supportive of Lyft and Uber, and has asked the PUC to amend its regulations to allow the companies to operate. Lyft and Uber have license applications pending with the PUC, Kocher said.

Peduto said through a spokesman that the meeting was productive.

“We decided to work together to work through statewide ride-sharing legislation for everyone. The reality is it is here to stay, and we should welcome ride-sharing as long as there are common sense safety rules,” Peduto said. “This is not meant to be unfair to any provider. Government has a public safety role to require people are adequately protected — through inspections, insurance and background checks.”

Peduto's spokesman Tim McNulty said he was unaware of the citations, but city officials will review the matter.

PUC enforcement officers operate independently of city and state police.

Campolongo has been critical of Uber and Lyft, saying they are violating PUC regulations. His company has a similar app-based business application pending with the PUC called Yellow X, although he says he won't operate without PUC approval.

“We're not trying to close out everyone from the market as long as everyone is playing on the same level playing field,” Campolongo said.

Among other issues Campolongo said he discussed with the mayor were plans for a permanent taxi stand at the corner of South 16th and East Carson streets to alleviate traffic issues during busy times on the South Side.

Lyft and Uber provide rides from drivers using their own cars and pick up customers based on real-time requests sent through a smartphone app. Lyft drivers attach a pink moustache to their grill for identification.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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