Pennsylvania senator’s statewide solution to regulate taxi, ride services gains steam
Consumers who use app-based car service Uber might have received a message this week seeking their political support as the company lobbies for a new set of state laws.
“In the coming weeks, Senators and Representatives have the chance to pass legislation to give Uber a permanent home in Pennsylvania,” reads the email. “We need your help!”
While the timeline is fuzzier than that missive implies, support is mounting for a proposal from state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington County, that would establish a permanent regulatory structure for app-based car services statewide, including Philadelphia.
Uber, and other services such as Lyft and Pittsburgh’s Yellow-Z, operate under temporary two-year Pennsylvania Utility Commission permits. The state has no permanent permit structure for the companies once those expire. In Philadelphia, where the Philadelphia Parking Authority oversees a medallion taxicab system, Uber employs as many as 12,000 drivers despite a lack of regulatory oversight.
The city merits more transportation choices than the 1,600 or so taxis, said Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett.
“This petition is about ensuring the residents across Pennsylvania are heard, and legislators recognize this isn’t just about a framework for the commonwealth,” he said. “This is about a city that needs rides but is being denied that alternative.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had more than 81,000 signers.
Uber arrived in Pennsylvania in February 2014, before a regulatory framework was in place. A decision is pending from the PUC’s administrative law judges about whether Uber will have to pay as much as $19 million for operating without approval and other violations. Attorneys from the PUC’s investigative bureau described the company as a lawless bully, though Uber says it has complied with existing law and carried adequate insurance.
Bartolotta’s proposal provides oversight for “transportation network companies” with insurance and background check requirements for the companies and their drivers. Other lawmakers have floated similar ideas, but Bartolotta said this one implements a legal operating structure for Philadelphia.
Car services like Uber would fall under the umbrella of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and have a 0.5 percent fee to turn over to the authority.
“If you’re going to provide a service to the public at large, we really need there to be some guidelines set in, just for protection,” said Bartolotta, a freshman senator. “I want to be sure we’re protecting people who are relying on a commercial carrier.”
The bill awaits a vote in the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee. Bartolotta expects discussion to begin after the state passes a budget, which was 100 days late as of Thursday.
PUC spokeswoman Robin Tilley said the commission supports the bill, and the concept of keeping all transportation regulatory oversight in Philadelphia under the authority’s purview.
Vince Fenerty, executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, supports the proposal. It makes sense, he said, for his agency to oversee taxis and transportation network companies — and it could help level the playing field after Uber’s disruption.
The taxi industry has cried foul against Uber, as it loses business to the company while being subject to different rules.
“Uber came into the market as they have everywhere else, using the bully tactic,” Fenerty said. “They’ve gained some support, they’ve gained some detractors. … As soon as there is a statewide solution, I believe that everyone will be better off.”
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or [email protected].