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Rivals try to block Uber, Lyft in Pittsburgh

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By Bobby Kerlik
Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

Controversial ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber will have a showdown with dozens of traditional taxi companies in the coming weeks as they seek a permanent operating license from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Lyft is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday and Friday before two administrative law judges, and Uber is scheduled for a similar hearing Aug. 18 and 19. The judges will make a recommendation to the PUC.

The companies, which allow people to hail a ride via a smartphone app, received a 60-day approval from the PUC on July 24.

“We're actively working with the PUC to meet the requirements and look forward to moving ahead in the process and creating a permanent home for Uber,” said spokesman Taylor Bennett. “It's great the city and its leaders have embraced innovation and choice.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald are ardent supporters of Lyft and Uber.

Not everyone is, though. As of Friday, opponents from across the state filed 57 petitions against Lyft and 59 against Uber. Many of those people are expected to testify at the hearings.

“Approval of the application is not necessary or proper for the accommodation, service, necessity or safety of the public,” according to the petition from Billtown Cab Co. of Williamsport. “Applicant is not fit to provide the proposed service.”

Chuck Half, manager of projects and productivity for VETaxi, owned by Star Transportation, said his company does not oppose ride-sharing services; it just wants to ensure the PUC makes them pay the same fees and abide by the same rules as his company.

“We welcome competition, but there are expenses we have to pay (to the PUC),” Half said.

Regardless of what the PUC decides, state lawmakers likely will have the final say. At their meeting last week, PUC commissioners even emphasized it. A bill pending in Harrisburg would allow ride-sharing services, but the full Legislature does not return until September and is in session for only one day after October.

“I think the commissioners want to see the legislation passed. I think they're hoping the legislation takes control and does the job,” said Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, a primary sponsor of the bill. “If it wasn't for the (pending) legislation, I don't think they would have granted the 60-day approval.”

Similar battles have been waged across the country. Colorado in June became the first state to pass legislation authorizing ride-sharing. Legislation in other states, such as Maryland, has failed. Some cities, such as Minneapolis, have passed ordinances allowing ride-sharing.

“Cities and states across the country, including Colorado, California, Minneapolis and Seattle, have stepped up to embrace innovation in transportation by drafting common-sense rules that prioritize public safety and consumer choice,” Lyft spokeswoman Paige Thelen said.

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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