Bill to legalize UberX and Lyft in all of Pennsylvania clears committee, expected to pass House next week

A bill to legalize the ride-hailing companies passed the Pennsylvania House Consumer Affairs Committee today, clearing the way for a vote before the full House perhaps as soon as next week.

The bill, SB-984, passed out of committee by a 23-2 vote after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations and intense lobbying from the ride-hailing companies, which the legislation designates transportation network companies (TNC).

The bill passed the Senate last year by a 48-2 vote. Since then, it’s been amended so that the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) will retain regulatory supervision over the TNCs, which use mobile-apps to connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles to get people around.

Taxi drivers and cab companies fought hard to stop the bill. They also lobbied unsuccessfully for the bill to include minimum wage requirements for TNC drivers. And in an effort to build a wider coalition against the TNCs, taxi drivers joined with disability advocates, pressing for wheelchair accessibility in TNC vehicles, which are the individual drivers’ personal vehicles.

In the end, the taxis got nothing, not even a regulatory carve out preserving their exclusive rights to taxi stands at Philadelphia International Airport, 30th Street Station or hotels, which was included in earlier versions of the bill.*

Ron Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, said the bill was exploiting drivers and the disabled, who were left out of negotiations in recent weeks.

“The taxi industries, the taxi drivers, [and] the people with disabilities weren’t at the table,” said Blount. “if you’re not at at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

According to state Rep. Bob Goldshall, who chairs the Consumer Affairs committee, the legislative loggerjam was worked out last week in Mayor Jim Kenney’s office with representatives from the city and the PPA finding a way to preserve the PPA’s regulatory powers. Critically, the compromise will try to preserve a revenue stream to the School District of Philadelphia, which gets a cut of existing taxi and limo licensing fees.

Under the legislation, TNCs will pay a tax set at one percent of the gross receipts from all TNC fares for trips originating within Philadelphia. Two-thirds of that fee will go to the School District of Philadelphia, and one-third to the PPA.

Martin O’Rourke, a spokesman for the PPA, applauded the bill’s passage out of committee, saying the bill was “the result of numerous meetings to work out a compromise. It’s a good bill, and it will provide a much needed service while ensuring public safety.”

Blount said he expects the bill to pass, saying that the PPA, Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and City of Philadelphia worked out a deal that benefited their interests in receiving fees from TNCs at the exploitation of taxi drivers and the disabled.

Limo drivers, including drivers for the already legal UberBlack service, also stand to lose if the bill passes as expected: They have been some of the most outspoken opponents to TNC legalization, which are generally cheaper than their services.

Under the legislation, the PPA and PUC will oversee TNCs much in the same way they presently oversee taxis. The PPA will have jurisdiction over TNCs based

The legislation also limits TNCs liability for the personal vehicles of their drivers, which may limit the ability of injured passengers or pedestrians to sue the TNCs for crashes involving their drivers during ride-hailing service. Instead, those claims would likely be limited to just the driver’s personal insurance. The bill mandates specific auto insurance requirements for TNC drivers.

The legislation also requires background checks on drivers and a zero-tolerance alcohol and drugs policy.

“Pennsylvania deserves a permanent ridesharing solution that provides clarity for drivers and passenger across the state,” said Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson in an emailed statement.  “We now look to the full House to finalize this legislation and bring the bill to a floor vote.”

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that this regulatory carve out for taxis and limos remained, which would have prevented TNCs from picking up fares from those locations. It was excised in an amendment to the bill. 

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