Skip to content
Business
Link copied to clipboard

Phila. crackdown on UberX continues; ride-share firm vows to go on

Philadelphia Parking Authority officials vowed Monday to continue their crackdown on UberX drivers, impounding cars and issuing $1,000 fines, if the ride-share drivers attempt to pick up passengers in the city.

Philadelphia Parking Authority enforcement officers, assisted by mounted Philadelphia police, on Saturday impound a car operated by an UberX driver in Old City, in defiance of a PPA ban on the ride-share service. BASIE GITLIN
Philadelphia Parking Authority enforcement officers, assisted by mounted Philadelphia police, on Saturday impound a car operated by an UberX driver in Old City, in defiance of a PPA ban on the ride-share service. BASIE GITLINRead more

Philadelphia Parking Authority officials vowed Monday to continue their crackdown on UberX drivers, impounding cars and issuing $1,000 fines, if the ride-share drivers attempt to pick up passengers in the city.

The battle intensified Monday, as Mayor Nutter voiced his support for the service, and Uber asked the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to grant it emergency authority to operate in the city and suburban counties.

"I am supportive of them being here legally, operating within requirements of the law," Nutter said Monday.

"Ultimately, what this is all really about is customer service, innovation, being able to get a ride from point A to point B, get there quickly and safely," he said.

Six UberX drivers were stopped by PPA enforcement officers on Saturday and Sunday, and their cars were impounded. Each driver was given a $1,000 citation and sent home - five in taxis and one on a bus to Lancaster.

Additional $1,000 fines were levied for each instance against Uber, for "aiding and abetting an unlicensed taxicab service," PPA Executive Director Vincent J. Fenerty Jr. said Monday.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said Uber would pay the fines and impoundment fees for drivers and castigated the Parking Authority for "harassing and using excessive force" against UberX drivers.

"We saw incredible demand this weekend, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive," Bennett said. He said UberX drivers would continue to pick up drivers in Philadelphia.

Uber is a San Francisco company that links people looking for rides with car owners looking for extra money. Phone apps allow riders to summon a car, pay for the service, and get a receipt, all electronically. Similar services, such as Lyft, are also seeking authority to operate in Philadelphia and across the state.

On Friday night, Uber announced it was beginning UberX service immediately in Philadelphia, in defiance of a ban by the PPA, which considers the ride-share service an illegal taxi operation.

(A separate Uber service, Uber Black, operates a more expensive on-demand limousine service in Philadelphia in compliance with PPA rules.)

Nutter said Monday that Uber and PPA should "sit down and figure out how to work in a 21st century environment here in the city of Philadelphia and really focus on customers and what customers need."

"Philly is a big city and should have as many quality transportation options as possible," he said.

Nutter, a Democrat, criticized the Republican-controlled Parking Authority as trying to protect the traditional taxi industry and the value of taxi medallions, worth more than $500,000 each.

Nutter urged that the issue be worked out so it doesn't "negatively affect those who have paid a lot of money for their medallion, but also not freeze out other Philadelphians who want to use their own vehicle, have it properly inspected, properly registered, properly insured, background checks, all those things have to be in place," he said.

Even as it defied the PPA, Uber on Monday extended an olive branch.

"We would welcome the opportunity to sit down and have a civil conversation with them," Bennett said. He said no such talks had been scheduled.

Uber filed an application Friday night with the PUC for emergency temporary authority to operate in Philadelphia, as well as Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties, arguing that the PUC, not the PPA, has jurisdiction over ride-sharing services.

The PUC is reviewing the application, said spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

"UberX is a hack cab service," Fenerty responded Monday. "We believe the law is very clear that PPA is the sole authority for regulating" the service.

The Parking Authority - like two PUC administrative law judges who have recommended against granting Uber and Lyft permanent authority to operate in Pennsylvania - contends the ride-share companies do not have proper insurance to protect riders.

And the regulators argue the ride-share operators do not do adequate criminal background checks on drivers or provide satisfactory ways for disgruntled riders to settle disputes with drivers.

Uber, meanwhile, says it provides a $1 million insurance policy to cover riders, does thorough criminal background checks, and is "available 24 hours a day to address any concerns."

Philadelphia is the latest battleground for Uber and other ride-share services, which have launched their popular services in hundreds of cities and then fought to win legislative and regulatory approval.

Uber and Lyft arrived in Pennsylvania in February, launching ride-sharing in Pittsburgh to considerable public and political support. But they quickly ran afoul of regulators from the PUC, who said they were essentially unlicensed taxis.

After months of defying cease-and-desist orders from the PUC, the ride-share companies asked for - and received - temporary authority to operate in Allegheny County. They are seeking permanent authority statewide from the PUC.

But the hopes of Uber and Lyft for a lightning strike in Harrisburg with a quick rewriting of state laws bogged down this month.

Legislative leaders said bills to provide new rules for ride-sharing were unlikely to get a vote until next year.

And the enforcement arm of the PUC, which regulates taxi services everywhere but Philadelphia, proposed an eye-popping $6.97 million fine against Lyft for defying it in Allegheny County.

215-854-4587 @nussbaumpaul

Published