Transportation
11:24 am
Thu July 24, 2014

PUC Approves Emergency Ride-Sharing Permits

The state Public Utility Commission has approved emergency permits for two ride-sharing companies that have been operating in the Pittsburgh area.
 
The companies have come under fire over concerns that drivers, their vehicles and their insurance don't meet regulations for taxi cabs and other similar services. The companies have argued their services are just as safe but have been targeted because they don't fit neatly into current public transportation regulations.
 
“These proposals, although temporary in nature, foster the ability for Allegheny County residents to avail themselves of regulated transportation service that uses modern technology to serve traveling customers in that county,” said PUC Chairman Robert F. Powelson and Commissioner Pamela A. Witmer in a joint statement. “As evidenced by our action today, the Commission strives to ensure that its current regulatory structure is not a barrier to technological advances and desirable changes in the transportation industry.”
 
The San Francisco-based firms Lyft and Uber use smartphone apps to dispatch drivers who use their own personal vehicles to give people rides. The drivers then share the fares they collect with the companies.
 
The PUC's five commissioners voted to approve the permits citing the "immediate and substantial" benefit they'd provide to residents who want an alternative to traditional taxicab services.
 
In a statement, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said, “I want to thank the Public Utility Commission for clearing the way for ride-sharing services to operate in Allegheny County. This unanimous vote underscores Pittsburgh’s leadership in supporting 21st Century transportation options, and I will keep working with the PUC and others in Harrisburg to allow for them permanently.”
 
A cease and desist order for the services had been issued earlier this month, but both Lyft and Uber continued to operate in Allegheny County. The emergency permits do come with some requirements however.
 
“We have ordered improvements in the required insurance by making sure Uber and Lyft have the primary, not merely excess, responsibility for insurance coverage. We have also reduced the maximum age of the vehicles that can be used to provide service. These changes will benefit the operators, passengers, and the public,” said PUC Commissioner James H. Cawley.
 
Lyft and Uber said they would comply with the new requirement.
 
Lyft is hailing the decision. A spokesperson released the following statement: “Today's decision marks a significant step toward securing a future for ridesharing in Pittsburgh. With this decision, the PUC has recognized that regulations can and should be modernized to allow innovative industries to thrive while maintaining the highest level of public safety. We applaud the PUC for these efforts as an important first step in ensuring the people of Pittsburgh have transportation options.”