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October 06, 2016

Business as usual for Uber, Lyft in face of PPA threats, cease-and-desist order

Even as the Philadelphia Parking Authority plans to crack down on ride-sharing services operating illegally in the city, Uber and Lyft say it's business as usual. 

On Thursday, a judge in the Court of Common Pleas issued a cease-and-desist order to halt their operations in the city.

Uber spokesman Craig Ewer said the company is "still reviewing" the legal order but said it "just made it more clear that the clock had run out" and it's time for state government to act on legislation that would make ride-sharing legal in Philadelphia. 

Lyft spokesperson, Chelsea Harrison, also said that the company is reviewing the order and called on legislators to act. 

In the past, state legislators made a pledge to pass such legislation and it was time for them to keep it, Ewer said. 

"It is more imperative than ever that the House leadership stick to their promise and pass ride-sharing legislation the week of October 17th," he said in an emailed statement. 

On Saturday, state legislation that had temporarily allowed ride-sharing in Philadelphia expired.

On Monday, the Philadelphia Parking Authority gave Uber and Lyft and their drivers 48-hour notice that it would begin enforcement. PPA spokesman Martin O'Rourke said Wednesday that drivers could have their their cars impounded and face a $1,000 fine – with one for the company as well. Drivers would also be on the hook for towing and impounding costs. 

"The PPA will do what it did prior to the agreement [permitting ride-sharing]," O'Rourke said. 

At the same time, PPA relaxed some regulations on taxi drivers in the city. 

In July, before the Democratic National Convention came to town, state legislators tabled legislation that would make the services legal in the city, but reached agreement to legalize it temporarily. 

Uber and Lyft representatives said they are working with state legislators to get the service legalized as soon as possible. 

Steve Miskin, spokesman for the Republican caucus of the State's House of Representatives, tweeted that legislators plan to discuss such legislation when they return to session on the week of Oct. 17.

"This kind of tactic from the PPA is exactly why Lyft is working with legislators in Harrisburg to pass a statewide framework that keeps our safe, affordable rides available for people in all of Pennsylvania's 67 counties," she said in a statement. 

Ride-sharing expert Harry Campbell, a Los Angeles-based writer who runs The Ride Share Guy blog, the return to a ban on ride-sharing — after a period of allowing the services to operate with impunity — would have little impact on the service. 

In fact, he said, drivers and those who use ride sharing regularly might not even notice that the services are illegal once again. 

"Most drivers aren't even aware of what's going on," he said Wednesday. 

He noted that Uber had even covered the fines and most of the costs of impounding for its drivers who found themselves in trouble with PPA. 

Ewer wouldn't say that Uber planned to do that again, but he did say the company would "intend to support drivers" and he urged them to contact Uber immediately if they are cited or if their cars are impounded. 

Many ride-share drivers agreed. 

Bill Hughes of Yardley, a driver for Uber, said that just to avoid the inconvenience of having his car towed, he might not take some fares in Philadelphia, but, he doesn't intend to stop altogether. 

Instead, Hughes said, he'd just pull back a little, which would also allow him to avoid Center City traffic.

"I just don't want to be inconvenienced by having my car impounded or by getting hit with fines," he said, saying he typically shuttles passengers into the city but takes few fares once inside city limits. 

But other drivers don't plan on changing their routines in the least. 

Ron, an Uber driver who asked PhillyVoice not to use his last name, said he doesn't plan to stop now. 

"When I first started doing this, I was driving when it was illegal anyway," he said.

Ron said he typically drives for Uber about three to five days a week, and noted that he isn't doing it to defy the law. Instead, he plans to continue driving because it's a solid source of income. 

"It's not like any of us are out here doing this for fun. We are doing it for income," he said. "So, we are going to keep doing it." 

Stacey Wright, from the city's Germantown neighborhood, who has been driving for Lyft for about six months, said he drives part-time for extra cash. He doesn't plan on stopping, either. 

He's getting married in December and has a wedding to pay for. 

"It's a no-brainer for me. I'm going to keep driving," said Wright. 

Wright said that the company has been supportive and he hopes that legislators in Harrisburg can come to an agreement to make the service legal in Philadelphia, but, he's not going to wait around for a decision. 

"It would affect my bottom line if I didn't drive," he said.