The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has slammed the brakes on ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber in Pittsburgh effective immediately.
PUC Administrative Law judges have granted the emergency petition by the PUC Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement to issue cease-and-desist orders for the companies.
The two-judge panel wrote that they were not “blind or deaf to the public opinion,” but that the commission’s duty to ensure public safety is more important than the convenience of the companies.
However, in a written response, Uber officials expressed confusion over the order, saying that it could be more dangerous for them to stop operations before the Fourth of July.
“We find it particularly hard to understand how preventing ridesharing in the state could be deemed an emergency, given the critical need to provide Pittsburghers with a safe alternative to impaired driving this holiday weekend.”
In an email, Uber spokeswoman Taylor Bennett said the company’s presence in Seattle decreased DUI’s by 10 percent.
According to the company, it checks drivers’ federal, multi-state and county criminal records going back seven years as well as the national sex-offender registry, exceeding the requirements set by the PUC.
PUC Press Secretary Jennifer Kocher said the commission is simply bound by current Pennsylvania law.
“We cannot ignore laws, and we cannot pick and choose which laws we want to enforce,” Kocher said. “And under the law, as it is written now, companies in Pennsylvania … or people in Pennsylvania that are providing transportation for compensation must have a certificate of public convenience from the Public Utility Commission.”
The companies have both applied for and are awaiting certification. Kocher said they would be allowed to operate again upon that approval.
She said there are currently six applications pending before the commission across the state for ride-sharing companies, all with protests filed against them.
Lyft and Uber have seven days to file briefs with the commission, but the cease-and-desist remains in effect until the commissioners overturn them.
“Once the commission takes a final vote, if they continue to operate despite the cease-and-desist order, then we can take it Commonwealth Court and ask the courts to uphold the commission order,” Kocher said.
If the commission does not take action within 30 days, the companies would also need the Commonwealth Court’s help to overturn the orders.
Mayor Bill Peduto released a statement Wednesday, saying that he intends to work with Republican and Democratic leaders in the Legislature if Gov. Tom Corbett and the PUC are unable to “adapt to the new.”
“Technologies like ride-sharing evolve with the times and state regulators must too. While the Commission may wish for Pennsylvania to cling to a Jurassic Age of transportation options, people in Pittsburgh and other communities know our state must adapt or die in the global marketplace…We will fight together to find ways to promote entrepreneurship and modern transportation options while protecting the safety of riders and drivers alike.”
Uber stated that it plans to continue to operate as usual and work with state leaders to “find a permanent home for ride-sharing in Pennsylvania.”
Lyft has not responded to requests for comment.