Carrying signs reading "Ubernomics Equals Drivers' Poverty" and "Public Safety in Danger," hundreds of limousine and taxi drivers walked or drove their cars around City Hall on Wednesday afternoon in a protest against Uber and Lyft operations here.
Dozens of cars filled Market Street from City Hall to 17th Street, while dozens more circled City Hall during the 75-minute protest. SEPTA had to detour buses around blockaded areas. "It's a mess," Police Inspector John Heath said.
The protesters are demanding that officials stop UberX and Lyft from working in the city, saying their drivers are taking work away from them.
"I hope they are listening," said Ali Razak, head of the Philadelphia Limousine Association, a group of about 480 limo drivers mostly affiliated with the more expensive and legal UberBlack.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority regulates car passenger service here, and has not authorized UberX and Lyft to operate.
"Many taxi and limousine drivers are understandably frustrated because the Philadelphia Parking Authority's outdated rules make it harder to earn a living when the public has shown they want more affordable options," Uber spokesman Craig Ewer said by email.
"Who we didn't hear from at the protest are the 22,000 UberX drivers in the Philadelphia area and the hundreds of thousands [of] passengers who have benefited from more rides in more places," added colleague Jason Post.
UberBlack is a division of Uber Technologies Inc., a San Francisco company that also runs lower-priced UberX.
Trying to enforce its ban on UberX, the Parking Authority has impounded some cars, but the volume makes it nearly impossible for the agency to shut UberX's operation in the city.
Parking Authority spokesman Martin O'Rourke said that the drivers were not protesting Parking Authority regulations. "The protest is about UberX and Lyft breaking the law," he said.
"I think [Uber] is taking money out of people's pockets," said Keyanna Hall, a regular UberX customer who happened to encounter the protest Wednesday. She said the protest would cause her to look more deeply into the issues, but probably would not stop her from using Uber.
Razak and other drivers say they earned a decent living when UberBlack entered the area as a mobile-app dispatch and payment service for limousines several years ago.
But, they said, when Uber brought the lower-cost UberX service into Philadelphia in 2014, their incomes collapsed.
Similar complaints came from members of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, who joined the limo workers in their protest.
"UberX is illegal," said cabdriver Abdallah Abdi of Northeast Philadelphia, who said he had been a lawyer in Pakistan.
Abdi said he had been driving since 5 a.m. Wednesday and had earned $40 by noon. Before UberX, he said, he would have earned "$150 easily" in the same period.