Philadelphia schools may yet benefit from legalization of ride hailing in the city.
A bill introduced Thursday in Harrisburg by Democratic State Sen. Vincent Hughes would guarantee money for the cash-starved Philadelphia School District if ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft begin paying fees, taxes, and penalties through regulation. The bill would also upend a proposed funding formula that gives the Philadelphia Parking Authority a minimum of $2.5 million and leaving the district with scant chance of getting a dime.
PPA officials, however, said Thursday that making the authority's share of the revenue less than $2.5 million would be worrisome.
Oversight of ride hailing, they said, would make them responsible for about 15,000 more vehicles on top of the 3,500 they now regulate, and that would cost money.
"To reduce it that much more would further limit our ability to do what we think we need to do to ensure the industry operates safely," said Dennis Weldon, PPA general counsel.
Advocates of more funding for the School District, though, say the PPA's budget troubles are secondary to the needs of an ailing school district where an additional $1 million could mean more water fountains, more teachers, or more books for libraries.
"I think need is different from the Parking Authority's perspective and an outsider's perspective," said City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who has lambasted the PPA for reducing its contribution to the schools.
School District officials did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
The PPA has said the combination of additional costs and reduced revenue means regulating ride hailing would require an additional $3.8 million. A review of the authority's numbers, however, indicates that the need is closer to $3.1 million.
The authority was using numbers from 2015 that do not represent current staffing in the taxicab and limousine division, PPA deputy general manager Rick Dickson said.
The tug-of-war for funds between schools and the parking authority is riling Harrisburg.
A few weeks ago a bill to regulate the ride-hailing industry was out of a House committee and prepared to go to the floor. But that bill included a deal reached among Uber and Lyft, the city, and PPA that left virtually nothing for the School District. From the point of view of some negotiators, the point of the bill was not to help the city's public schools, but to get ride hailing out of limbo and into a fully legal and regulated status in Philadelphia. That point of view may be changing, though.
"My suggestion is let's get everyone to the table again," said State Rep. Maria Donatucci, head of the city's delegation in Harrisburg, adding, "I think the Philadelphia delegation is on board that the schools need money and that we need to tweak this."
Hughes' appropriation bill, which was cosponsored by the entire Philadelphia delegation, would give the School District 66 percent of any money fees, penalties, and tax revenue raised through ride-hailing regulation. The remainder would go to the PPA.
Hughes' bill does not directly address ride hailing's legal status. It simply prescribes how the revenue should be allocated in the city if the industry is legalized here. It would supersede language in the Senate bill that allocated $2.5 million to the PPA in fees, and up to $2 million of any additional revenue the businesses might generate at a 1.7 percent tax rate.
A review of the PPA budget for the taxi and limo division shows a significant decline in revenue since ride hailing hit Philadelphia in 2014. Money raised from medallion sales went from $1.3 million in 2013 to $309,700 last year.
Meanwhile, PPA officials said the full cost of regulating ride hailing was unknown. They will do spot-checks of vehicles, doing more detailed random inspections and auditing ride-hailing companies' background checks of drivers if the regulatory bill passes.
The agency was dismissive of recent statements from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission that indicated ride hailing has been largely safe statewide with minimal oversight.
"One of the responsibilities is to make sure the honest people stay honest," Dickson said.