San Francisco-based ride-sharing company Uber is once again trying to drum up support for legislation that would give the company permanent legal status in Pennsylvania. It’s asking supporters in Pittsburgh and across the state to sign a petition to the Legislature “to pass legislation that would permit UberX to operate in all 67 counties in the Commonwealth.”
Both Uber and its largest competitor Lyft, which match drivers in their own vehicles with passengers through smartphone apps, battled with regulators when they rolled into Pittsburgh in February of 2014. Neither had sought Public Utility Commission licensure before moving into the city, which raised the ire of PUC commissioners. After months of back-and-forth which included a cease-and-desist letter for each company and proposed daily fines, Uber and Lyft are now operating in most of Pennsylvania under two-year experimental licenses granted by the PUC earlier this year.
But in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Parking Authority has jurisdiction over taxis, and has yet to adopt any formal regulations to oversee Uber and Lyft in that city. In order to make the experimental licenses permanent, the Legislature would have to change the PUC code. But even that would still not address Uber and Lyft in Philadelphia.
Uber’s latest petition does mot mention a specific piece of legislation—there are more than a half-dozen different bills before various Legislature committees at the moment—but spokesman Taylor Bennett said the company supports a bill proposed by Sen. Camera Bartolotta of Monongahela. Her legislation would create “transportation network companies” (or TNCs) as a new designation for ride-sharing companies. And the Philadelphia Parking Authority would receive 0.5 percent of each fare from a TNC trip.
It’s not the first time Uber has resorted to grassroots mobilization efforts to push its policy agenda. Over the summer, the company rallied thousands of users in New York City to voice opposition to a proposal from Mayor Bill de Blasio that would have capped the number of Uber cars that could operate within city limits. De Blasio eventually dropped the plan in July in favor of more study of the situation. Their efforts have not been as fruitful with the Pennsylvania Legislature; despite a similar petition last year that had more than 64,000 signatures, the state remains without a permanent ride-sharing law.
It seems unlikely that the Legislature, which is currently locked in a budget battle with Gov. Tom Wolf, would take up the ride-sharing legislation any time soon.
And Bennett acknowledged that given the rivalry and competition for state resources between the two largest cities in Pennsylvania, it might be a challenge to get Pittsburghers to rally behind Uber equality for Philadelphians. “The real solution here is permanent legislation, ensuring that people who rely on Uber can do so anywhere in the Commonwealth,” Bennett says.