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W.Pa. ride-sharing ventures Uber, Lyft, Yellow Z prepare for fare fight

| Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, 11:43 a.m.
Smartphones display Uber car availability in New York on  Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Uber has submitted a detailed compliance plan to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission that, if approved, will allow the ride-sharing company to operate for two years in and around Allegheny County.
Smartphones display Uber car availability in New York on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. Uber has submitted a detailed compliance plan to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission that, if approved, will allow the ride-sharing company to operate for two years in and around Allegheny County.

Competing ride-sharing services Uber, Lyft and Yellow Z will face off in the new year, with each hurrying to master a mobile business model as young and capricious as the growing market it serves.

Uber has submitted a detailed compliance plan to the state Public Utility Commission that, if approved, will allow the ride-sharing company to operate for two years in and around Allegheny County.

The PUC will begin a review process this week, spokeswoman Robin Tilley said. Approval would result in an automatic extension of a provisional license the company is using to operate, she said.

“We're excited to have filed our plan that fully complies with the PUC's order,” Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said. “We look forward to continuing to offer safe, hassle-free rides and bringing that same access to millions more Pennsylvanians within the coming months.”

Lyft must submit its compliance plan by mid-January.

“We are still considering all of our options, which may include asking the PUC to reconsider some of the requirements,” spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said.

In its plan submitted last week, Uber described new primary insurance coverage for its drivers; employee background and driving history checks; requirements for the age and condition of cars used for trips; and collection of two years' worth of trip data, including date, time, origin, destination, fare and driver information. All were required by PUC officials. Uber had 30 days from Dec. 5 to comply.

The PUC voted 4-1 in favor of allowing Uber and Lyft to operate this fall, but commissioners warned the companies that their licenses would be revoked if specific conditions were not met. The two-year license is conditional on each company meeting lengthy safety and insurance requirements.

Pittsburgh's Yellow Cab is set to offer its own ride-sharing service, Yellow Z, in February.

“We asked people, a lot of young people, and all they want is a ride,” President Jamie Campolongo said. “They don't care that they get in a car that isn't insured or get driven by a guy who hasn't been vetted. It's a generational thing. We can't convince them to care, but we can commit ourselves to a higher standard.”

Like Yellow Cab's existing drivers, Yellow Z drivers and their driving records are examined in-house with annual inspections on every vehicle, Campolongo said. Twenty-five drivers have joined Yellow Z so far, he said.

Lyft and Uber declined to share information about their drivers, noting only that each company has contracts with “several thousand” statewide.

Campolongo said Yellow Cab employs 470 taxi drivers in Pittsburgh.

Only 35 percent of its business results from “kids going to bars,” he said, and the company will not incorporate the dynamic pricing model used by Lyft and Uber.

Under the dynamic pricing model, fares fluctuate drastically between peak and off-peak hours. Lyft and Uber are each donating a portion of New Year's Eve fares to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and both acknowledge fares will likely be high.

Unlike upstarts Lyft and Uber, known as UberX in Pittsburgh, Yellow Cab never battled with state regulators. PUC spokeswoman Denise McCracken said the agency approved Yellow Z months ago.

It already had policies in place to meet PUC demands, Campolongo said.

“As challenging as this year has been from an operational side, it's going to pay off,” Campolongo said, citing a full convention-event calendar in Pittsburgh. “It's taken a while for all of us to get here, but we should all have a crazy-good 2015.”

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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