PUC denies Pittsburgh Yellow Cab weekend surcharge request |

PUC denies Pittsburgh Yellow Cab weekend surcharge request

Officials at Yellow Cab Company expect to wait months before finding out if they can increase base fares for cab rides in Pittsburgh as they navigate a lengthy regulatory process their new competitors Uber and Lyft don't have to follow in order to boost profits.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission denied a request Thursday at its monthly meeting in Harrisburg from Yellow Cab in Pittsburgh to increase fares on weekend nights when demand for taxi rides is high. Commissioners voted to postpone consideration of other requested increases.

Company president Jamie Campolongo said the increases are necessary to help meet costs and increase driver earnings. He faces competition from smartphone app-based car service companies Uber and Lyft. Both companies reduced fares by 15 percent this summer and practice “surge” pricing in which rates double or triple based on rider demand. If the PUC allows that, he said, it should allow Yellow Cab to compete.

“They have to understand that they've changed the marketplace,” Campolongo said of the PUC. “The game is different. They can't continue to keep us handcuffed.”

The commission denied a piece of Yellow Cab's request that sought up to an $8 surcharge for trips on Friday and Saturday nights. Allowing a variable rate, commissioners said, “does not allow a passenger to determine if it is the proper amount,” adding that the figure seemed arbitrary. Commissioners sent requests to raise the “flag drop” base fee to $4 from $2.25 and the waiting time fee to 55 cents from 25 cents a minute to the department's Bureau of Technical Utility Services for financial analysis.

Commissioners also ordered the company to cease applying a 1 percent emergency surcharge, which expired in 2009, a PUC spokesman said.

Yellow Cab's request to increase fares comes more than a year after Uber and Lyft started operating in Pittsburgh. The companies, along with Yellow Cab's app service Z-Trip, operate under permits for transportation network companies with different regulations than Yellow Cab.

If Campolongo doesn't get the fare increases he sees as necessary to balance the Yellow Cab books, he said he may have to shift efforts toward ride-share and cut traditional taxi service. But such a drastic shift, he said, would shut out those without smartphones.

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