City ridesharing services cited, no plans to shut down

By Meagan Hart / Staff Writer

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Back to the buses — Pittsburgh residents could soon be left with fewer transportation options.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has been cracking down on Lyft and Uber, two local ridesharing services, with undercover investigators who request rides and use the information to send citations to the drivers, according to the commission’s spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. 

Some students become agitated with Pittsburgh’s conventional means of transportation, and Anna Clements has often struggled with using Pittsburgh’s transportation system when she wants to leave Pitt’s campus. 

“I have to go Downtown for work a few times a week, and it can become very frustrating,” said Clements, a sophomore and pre-pharmacy major. “Sometimes, the buses stop running before I even leave work, and cabs are very expensive and take a long time to get to me.”

With such complaints in mind, Logan Green and John Zimmer created Lyft in 2012, and Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick founded Uber in 2009. The two ridesharing companies give travelers alternatives to buses or taxicabs.

The companies hire qualified drivers who are insured and licensed to drive, as well as have passed background checks to transport passengers to their desired destinations. While Lyft and Uber focus on covering Downtown Pittsburgh, according to their websites, the companies provide rides to anywhere the rider wants within the city. Customers can use a cell phone app to determine which driver is closest to their location and contact the driver to take them to their location. 

Kocher said representatives from both companies attended meetings at the Public Utility Commission in February when the commission established rules for the drivers and what the consequences would be if they were broken.

“We have provided these companies with information about how to become compliant with the law since February. They need to apply for a license from the Public Commission Administration and wait for acceptance,” Kocher said. “We told them ‘if you operate [without a license], we have no choice.’” 

According to Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Code Section 3310 under Title 66, anyone who qualifies as “operating a motor carrier” without a permit to do so will be charged with a summary offense.

The commission mailed a total of 23 citations on April 21, according to Kocher. The commission is reviewing the citations, which may include hearings by a Pennsylvania Utility Commission Administrative Law Judge.

“Any of the parties who are protesting [Lyft and Uber’s] applications for business may enter this type of action as evidence that the companies are unfit to do business,” Kocher said. 

According to Kocher, Lyft and Uber have each committed a secondary offense, or misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is jail time and a $10,000 fine. 

Natalia Montalvo, Uber’s spokeswoman, says that Uber has not broken any laws in Pittsburgh.

“Uber is a new and innovative business model that is not addressed by existing regulations. Many laws have not conceived of Uber’s model,” Montalvo said. 

Chelsea Wilson, Lyft’s spokeswoman, said Lyft acknowledges the citations from the city, but will not stop operating. 

“In all cases, we have responded immediately to provide support and we are also covering the cost of the citation and any necessary legal assistance,” Wilson said. 

Wilson said Lyft will “aim to identify a path forward that will allow ridesharing to thrive in Pittsburgh” and is willing to work with city and state leaders to answer questions about Lyft’s business model. 

“The people of Pittsburgh have enthusiastically welcomed Lyft as a new model of community-powered, safe rides and economic opportunity,” Wilson said. 

Matthew Gore, Uber Pittsburgh Associate General Manager, echoed the sentiments about Pittsburgh’s receptiveness to the new form of transportation.

“I don’t know how many people I’ve met — both riders and drivers — who have told me ‘Pittsburgh was a great city lacking one thing:  a reliable transportation option. Uber is putting Pittsburgh on the map.’” Gore said.

In response to the citations, Gore said current laws don’t allow for enough expansion of means of transportation.

“Uber is a new and innovative business model that wasn’t even conceived of when most regulations were written,” said Gore. “As we’ve expanded to over 100 cities, including Pittsburgh, we have reached out to regulators to create laws that expand consumer choice, not limit them.”

Clements, who used Lyft’s services last month, hopes the business and the pink mustaches continue to reside in Pittsburgh for as long as she does. 

“They picked me up within five minutes of me requesting them, and my driver gave me a fistbump,” Clements said. “I got where I wanted to go in a lot less time than I would’ve if I had waited for a bus.”

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