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May 03, 2016

State House committee to consider legalizing Uber, Lyft in Philly

Consumer Affairs Committee to vote on bill outlining regulations for ride-sharing services

Government Transportation
Carroll - Uber Lyft Taxi Showdown Thom Carroll, File/PhillyVoice

An UberX driver keeps his Uber sticker in his car console when driving in Philly.

The path toward legalizing ride-sharing services in Philadelphia could become much smoother later this week.

The state House Consumer Affairs committee is expected on Wednesday to consider amended legislation that effectively grants Uber and Lyft permanent licenses to operate their popular ride-sharing services across Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia.

The companies have been operating on temporary licenses everywhere but in the city, where they have defied the Philadelphia Parking Authority by operating without any license at all. The PPA, charged with regulating taxi companies and ride-sharing services in the city, has responded by impounding vehicles driven by Uber and Lyft drivers.

Nevertheless, the PPA and ride-sharing companies have been negotiating an amendment to a Senate bill subjecting Uber and Lyft to a series of safety regulations. The legislation overwhelmingly passed the Senate in November, but since has stalled in the House.

State Rep. Bob Godshall, R-53, Montgomery County, chairman of the Consumer Affairs Committee, bluntly described negotiations as a stressful process that required several alcoholic drinks. But he said he is optimistic his committee will vote on an amended bill at its Wednesday meeting, the deadline he set for a vote.

"Yes, I am [optimistic] at this point," Godshall said of the measure going to a vote, joking "If it doesn't, I'm going to need an extra bottle of vodka."

Because the amendment had not been finalized, Godshall declined to discuss the specifics of the legislation on Monday morning. But he said it would include "substantial changes" from the version the Senate approved, 48-2, shortly before Thanksgiving.

The Senate bill mandates ride-sharing companies perform background checks on potential drivers, maintain records of vehicles used by drivers and carry a minimum level of car insurance, among other requirements. Both Uber and Lyft already incorporate some of these safety requirements into their own company policies.

The bill also includes a 1 percent tax on all rides originating within the city, a provision that could result in slightly higher prices for consumers. The tax revenue would benefit the PPA and the School District of Philadelphia.

"We are continuing to meet with all stakeholders to make sure Philadelphians won't lose access to affordable rides and economic opportunities," Uber spokesman Craig Ewer said.

But Ewer declined to discuss specifics regarding the amended bill, as did officials from Lyft and the PPA.

"It's all under negotiation," PPA spokesman Marty O'Rourke said. "We're all working toward a compromised bill."


Uber and Lyft, which use mobile apps to connect riders to nonprofessional drivers operating their personal vehicles, have become a common transportation mode for Philadelphians since bursting onto the scene two years ago.

In late 2014, the state Public Utilities Commission granted Uber and Lyft temporary licenses to operate everywhere in Pennsylvania except Philadelphia through early 2017.

But their illegal arrival in Philadelphia drew the ire of the PPA and the city's taxi cab industry, which claims the ride-sharing companies siphon competition without paying for the expensive medallions required of taxi drivers. Cabbies have protested by clogging driving lanes surrounding City Hall.

Yet, both Uber and Lyft have increased their lobbying efforts as the legislative process drags out.

Uber launched an ad campaign last week that encourages viewers to sign an online petition urging lawmakers to pass legislation authorizing Uber to operate in all 67 Pennsylvania counties.

Lyft joined a coalition of supportive community, education and business organizations that has pressured the state legislature, PPA and city to recognize that ride-sharing companies are a reality.

"I think the PPA has come around to the reality that ride-sharing is here to stay," said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, a coalition member. "It's appropriate that a regulator like the PPA be in charge of oversight over consumer safety. It's also appropriate that the regulator recover the cost for their oversight efforts from the industry itself. I get that.

"But they don't stop with just cost recovery," he added. "They're trying to make the licensing fees a brand new revenue source for the city of Philadelphia."

Yet, after much negotiation, Godshall said he is confident a bill will be ready for the Consumer Affairs Committee to consider on Wednesday.

"If I wouldn't have put an ultimatum out that we're going to do something, I think it would have ran forever," Godshall said.

This article was edited to reflect that Lyft joined a coalition pressuring the state legislature to pass legislation that legalizes their operations in Philadelphia.