In recent weeks, two ride-sharing services have launched in Pittsburgh – Lyft and Uber.
Both offer paid rides available through a smart phone app. Shortly after their launch, the Pittsburgh Transportation Group, which owns Yellow Cab, asked Mayor Bill Peduto to pass an ordinance cracking down on such services. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission made a similar request of Peduto.
“I wanted to come firmly out on the record to state the opposition to the PUC’s request and take it one step further in working with Councilman (Dan) Gilman and hopefully the rest of City Council to state our intent to ask the PUC to change its rules,” Peduto said.
Peduto said he’d like to see a rule change either internally through the PUC itself, which was done in California, or through legislation, which was done in Colorado. Gilman joined Peduto in calling for changes.
They said archaic laws have created a monopoly by taxi and limousine companies.
“Let me be clear about this,” Peduto said. “Competition in anything is good. It creates a better product and it gives the people who use that product a better opportunity both through lower cost and through competition providing the service better.”
Online reviews for Lyft and Uber have been overall positive, with some users stating that it adds an option for when buses aren’t running or taxis don’t show up. Peduto himself said he’s requested a taxi at least 20 times only to have one not show up. The mayor has used Lyft and had glowing reviews. Still, others worry it leaves out a portion of the population such as the elderly, who may not be connected to the latest technology.
“I don’t consider Uber, Lyft, Jitneys or any other option as the fix-all or a solution to the public transit issues of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania,” Gilman said, “but I see them as piece of a puzzle that provides greater access.”
Right now, Lyft and Uber are not operating under PUC guidelines. With the requested rule change, Peduto said he is not requesting that they be exempt from laws, but rather the law change to make room for more modern technologies and programs. Regulations would still be in place.
“One thing is mandating that background checks be conducted for all the drivers, which is something that does happen with the taxi cab companies,” said Matt Barron, Peduto’s policy manager. “Another thing would be finding a way to ensure there’s some sort of liability insurance coverage for both drivers and passengers.”
Peduto has sent a letter to the PUC with the request and copied lawmakers including Gov. Tom Corbett on it. He said he will not be bullied on the issue and will not back down.
“I’m not going to send Pittsburgh Police officers, that have more serious things to do than chase cars with pink mustaches on them,” he said. “The PUC, the state legislature, need to realize it’s a new era. This opportunity is there to make it easier for people to get from one point to another.”
The PUC said in an e-mail: “We welcome the Mayor’s suggestions and we look forward hearing his recommendations. No one has come to us with their business model and explained what exactly in the current regulatory structure does not work for them and what changes they would need to see. Any party at time can petition the Commission for a rule change or a waiver. No one has done that at this time.”