Judging by the plummeting value of taxi ownership and robust demand for transportation alternatives, Philadelphians want ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft to be in business here as they are in much of the state and nation. So why is the city's traveling public financing an expensive campaign to keep the companies illegal?
The Philadelphia Parking Authority has spent more than half a million dollars on a firm that has been lobbying legislators to keep Uber, Lyft, and the like out of Philadelphia, the Daily News' William Bender reported last week - effectively using parking fines and other revenue collected from those who live, work, and travel in the city to limit the same public's transportation options. The newspaper obtained emails showing that Parking Authority officials colluded with cab companies to mount the lobbying effort and even to set up ride-share drivers in sting operations.
The report proved what had appeared to be true for some time: that the Parking Authority has formed an unholy alliance with the taxi industry it supposedly regulates to work in their mutual interest - and against the public's - to stifle competition.
The Parking Authority has collected as much as $500,000 apiece for the medallions that enable and restrict cab ownership, along with thousands of dollars a year in fees for each vehicle. Meanwhile, Parking Authority chief Vince Fenerty and taxi moguls such as Alex Friedman tend toward the same sort of overheated and inflammatory invective against Uber and Lyft, charging without evidence that the companies pose dire risks to public safety. So it's disturbing but not particularly surprising that regulator and regulated have been part of the same coordinated anticompetitive campaign.
The episode has raised more questions about the Parking Authority - the only Pennsylvania agency notorious enough to star in its own reality show - than it has about the ride-sharing services.
The state Public Utility Commission, which is responsible for taxis outside Philadelphia, found a way to license and regulate Uber and Lyft throughout the rest of the commonwealth. In a resolution sponsored by now-Mayor Kenney, Philadelphia's City Council has rightly urged a similar outcome here. The state House should follow the Senate's lead in passing legislation to make ride-sharing services legal, subject to safety and other standards.