When UberBlack entered the Philadelphia market in 2012, Kenan Sabani was thrilled.
To Sabani, UberBlack's smartphone application to dispatch limousines on demand and collect payments via mobile phone seemed to be the ticket to a bright future - from limo driver to businessman.
"My goal was to run an independent business and maybe, five or six or 10 years from now, not have to drive - to live the American dream," said Sabani, 35, of Port Richmond, a father of three expecting his fourth child.
"It has all gone downhill."
He and other UberBlack drivers blame San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc. for cannibalizing their businesses by introducing the lower-cost UberX into the area market.
"We've heard the complaints of the UberBlack drivers and are working with both sides of the equation to help them make more money," Uber spokesman Jason Post said. "It's in Uber's interest for drivers to make money."
Post said the company was trying harder to market the upscale UberBlack service to riders, while, at the same time, steering UberBlack's drivers to areas where there is more demand, particularly Wilmington.
On Wednesday, Sabani and other members of the Philadelphia Limousine Association, a group of about 480 UberBlack area drivers, plan a noon protest at City Hall.
Their main complaint is that UberX is not licensed by the Philadelphia Parking Authority yet continues to operate. The authority regulates cabs and limousines in the city. UberBlack and UberX drivers both allow passengers to summon them and pay using their smartphones.
UberBlack drivers want the Parking Authority or District Attorney Seth Williams or Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane to stop UberX operations in Philadelphia.
"Why are the state agencies sitting on their hands?" said Ali Razak, 30, of South Philadelphia, the leader of the group.
Spokespeople from the state Attorney General's Office and the District Attorney's Office said it was up to the Parking Authority to enforce its ban on UberX. The Parking Authority has impounded some cars, but the volume of them makes it nearly impossible, the authority's executive director, Vince Fenerty, said.
Outside the city, UberX is operating under a two-year agreement with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. UberBlack is licensed by the PUC and the city Parking Authority.
But UberBlack is regulated more like a taxi service with drivers having commercial licenses, a state regulatory sticker, and vehicles commercially insured - all of which cost the drivers money on top of the commission they pay to Uber, the parent company.
While UberBlack drivers operate luxury vehicles, UberX drivers use their own cars, are not licensed by the state, and rely on Uber's insurance, which activates during trips, the Uber spokesman said.
Uber said UberX is not a transportation company and therefore is not subject to regulation by the PUC and the city Parking Authority.
UberBlack's expense structure is complicated.
In the region, Gegen L.L.C. is UberBlack's corporate presence. UberBlack drivers, who are considered independent contractors rather than employees, generally provide their own vehicles to adhere to UberBlack's standards.
If they need to buy and finance cars, they say, they have to buy and borrow through a few local dealerships that have relationships with Gegen and can help Gegen obtain the $15,000 limousine license required by the city Parking Authority.
That $15,000 aligns drivers with Gegen. Jon Feldman, Uber's Pennsylvania director, said Gegen helps drivers get into the business without "spending thousands of dollars in upfront costs."
Gegen also requires drivers to obtain insurance through Knightbrook Insurance Co.
Knightbrook is a company owned by the Hankey Group, a California firm that also owns Westlake Financial Services L.L.C., another California company that partners with Uber on automotive financing.
The UberBlack drivers say they have no negotiating power in the terms of their loans or in their insurance. Uber said rates were favorable.
UberBlack drivers say they can't afford to operate. Expenses have increased, but because of UberX, they say, revenue is down.
When Sabani started driving with UberBlack three years ago, he was earning $900 to $1,200 a week after expenses.
Sabani said that in the last three weeks he netted $22 one week, 81 cents in another, and ended up owing Gegen $104 in a third week.
Razak, a father of two with a third on the way, said he had a similar experience. Now he's struggling. "I'm behind on my bills," he said. "I'm in danger of losing my house."
Uber's spokesman said that UberBlack drivers can drive for UberX, but Razak and Sabani say driving for UberX - illegal in Philadelphia - puts their limousine licenses at risk.
The UberBlack drivers know the demand for cheaper UberX makes its presence inevitable.
"We are in favor of technology," Razak said. "We have no problem with fair competition."