By Vince Fenerty
The goal of the Philadelphia Parking Authority's push for regulation of new transportation network companies like UberX and Lyft is based on the need to ensure public safety and fair competition so that all players in the for-hire transportation industry are playing by the same set of rules. Currently that is not the case.
The PPA does not oppose UberX or Lyft operating in Philadelphia; we simply seek to have the services legalized in a way that levels the playing field by taking into account the interests of all affected parties so that, ultimately, the system works in the best interest of the riding public.
The PPA's primary concern has always been and continues to be public safety. Because of the current absence of ride-sharing regulation, there is no assurance that any of the UberX or Lyft drivers have been trained or have had their driving records and backgrounds checked for any prior criminal convictions. There is also no way of knowing if any of the vehicles used by these non-trained drivers have been inspected or if they are even insured.
The PPA supports the New York City regulatory model, which integrates the existing taxicab and limousine services with the newer ones in an overall for-hire transportation system. New York City regulates UberX and Lyft, requiring their drivers to be trained, background checks to be performed, and vehicles to be inspected and insured. All of that is part of the public record and open for public inspection.
Since its inception, Uber has embarked on an aggressive business model in Pennsylvania that blatantly ignored existing laws prohibiting its UberX ride-sharing business from operating. This disregard resulted in two Pennsylvania administrative law judges recommending a $49.9 million fine for operating without a license and ignoring a Public Utility Commission order to cease operating.
For more than a year, the PPA has worked with representatives from both the taxi medallion and the ride-sharing industries - including UberX and Lyft - as well as members of the Pennsylvania legislature to help fashion a workable legislative remedy to the inequality and public-safety threat posed by the current situation. The PPA has not picked sides, nor has there been any behind-the-scenes cabal afoot to hurt Uber or Lyft.
The PPA has repeatedly met with representatives of all service providers concerned about this issue. We have also encouraged them to take their concerns and views directly to their respective legislators so they can be accurately presented and considered.
Aside from talking to and meeting with representatives from Uber and Lyft on numerous occasions over the past 12 months, we met with Uber founder Travis Kalanick in our office to work on the creation of his legal 650-vehicle UberBlack service. Representatives of the PPA have testified a number of times before legislative committees, participated in discussions with legislators while representatives of Uber and Lyft were in the room, and proposed statutory language that has been available to anyone interested in this debate.
Any observer of the nearly 12-year struggle the PPA has waged to improve taxicab service in Philadelphia knows that we have not "been captured by the industry." Against strenuous opposition from the taxi industry, we have imposed higher vehicle standards, driver training, credit card payment systems, wheelchair-accessible vehicles, and, more recently, safety-camera systems to help protect both drivers and passengers. All of these progressive regulatory measures on the PPA's part resulted in strenuous and costly legal opposition from the taxicab industry.
The PPA's mandate is to ensure quality, safe for-hire transportation services in Philadelphia. We have insisted on improvements to all taxicabs, dispatchers, limousines, and airport transfer vans serving Philadelphia and have been willing to work with companies like Uber and Lyft to make them part of the system.
The PPA's position is clear, open, and transparent. Each transportation provider has a role to play. Each must adhere to basic regulatory requirements to ensure public safety and accountability. The PPA will continue to work toward that goal.