The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission levied the largest fine in its history against Uber for operating a transportation business without its blessing two years ago.
The $11,365,000 fine passed the commission three votes to two. Opposed were Robert Powelson and Pamela Witmer. The largest previous fine levied by the body was $1.8 million against an electric company that defrauded customers. The fine is still much less than the $50 million recommended in a Nov. 17 PUC admnistrative law judges' finding that Uber violated the public utility code.
In comments explaining the fine, Chairman John Coleman said the commission considered every ride provided by Uber a violation, this case involved thousands of violations, more than any in the commission's history.
"Uber has deliberately engaged in the most unprecedented series of civil violations," he said.
He cited mitigating factors, though, that compelled the commission to levy a fine lower than what was recommended. The commission granted Uber and other ride sharing businesses like Lyft a certificate of experimental authority which has allowed them to operate legally in the state since 2014. Since that was issued, he said, Uber has not demonstrated compliance problems. There have been few accidents since then, no injuries, acceptable insurance coverage and virtually no complaints from customers.
Uber plans to appeal the decision, a company spokesman said, and would be releasing a statement later Thursday.
The dissenting commissioners cited those factors as reasons the $11.3 million fine was too high, and Powelson noted customers were getting what they wanted when they got in an Uber driver's vehicle. He added ride sharing, in which customers use a smart phone app to connect with participating drivers, is a business model without precedent in the state.
"They were operating in a legally gray area," he said. "The commission should take that into account."
He also chastised the PUC staff for refusing to negotiate a settlement with Uber, something the PUC did with Lyft last year. They reached a resolution with a $250,000 fine for similar violations.