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Yellow Cab aims to adapt Pittsburgh service with app

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Pittsburgh’s taxi and car service market is in the midst of a pricing war. On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission will consider its response to a request from Yellow Cab to increase multiple rates, including the initial “flag drop” base fee from $2.25 for the first seventh of a mile to $4. The company, run by Jamie Campolongo, also seeks up to an $8 surcharge for trips on Friday and Saturday nights.

Pittsburgh’s Yellow Cab is poised to start a ride-sharing service dubbed Yellow Z that will help its drivers compete with established smartphone-based transportation firms Lyft and Uber from behind the wheel of their cars.

Yellow Cab President Jamie Campolongo said this week he plans to begin the service Feb. 1, but testing is under way.

“We’re adapting. Our business got turned upside down with Uber and Lyft,” Campolongo said.

The service will be similar to the popular Lyft and Uber services, including what Campolongo said are safety upgrades.

Part-time drivers using their cars will drive for the service, which would allow users to hail rides via the zTrip smartphone application. Drivers will have a computer tablet with a meter to record fares. Users can pay with credit card or cash.

Campolongo said Yellow Z drivers must go through driver training, and their cars must pass a mechanic’s inspection.

For riders seeking a more luxurious ride similar to the Uber Black service option, users can book a black Chrysler 300, Campolongo said.

“(Yellow Z drivers) will go out during peak times. They will get the overflow of cab calls,” Campolongo said. “The nice thing is now we can expand (service) on weekends.”

Regular taxis will be available through the app, Campolongo said.

PUC spokeswoman Denise McCracken said the agency approved Yellow Z months ago. Commissioners gave tentative approval to Lyft and Uber, but are awaiting compliance filings from the companies to satisfy insurance and safety requirements.

A spokesman for Uber declined comment. A Lyft spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment.

A bill in the state Legislature could preempt PUC rules. The latest session ended with no action on the measure Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, introduced to outline ride-share service regulations. Fontana said he’ll try again in 2015.

“We’re working through the issues. We want to make the legislation all-inclusive. The insurance companies are also working through it,” Fontana said. “I would hope something gets done by June. We need the public to feel safe.”

Several taxi companies opposed the PUC’s decision to approve operating permits for Lyft and Uber, saying the companies have an unfair advantage because they don’t follow the same PUC regulations. The controversy erupted nearly a year ago here when the San Francisco-based companies began service in Pittsburgh.

Lyft and Uber officials contend their insurance and safety standards are adequate, and that they improve service.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].

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