Kenney calls anti-UberX/Lyft coalition’s bluff as ride-hailing supporters push legalization bill

Last week, a coalition of cab owners, limo drivers and advocates for the disabled issued an ultimatum to Mayor Jim Kenney: Step into the UberX/Lyft v. taxis v. PPA fracas within five days, or expect “extraordinary measures.”

The only things extraordinary today have been some beautiful weather and ghastly violence. As of this afternoon, taxis appeared to be running normally and there were no signs of protest or strike from the coalition, which goes by the nom-de-guerre Let Philly Ride.

It appears that the new mayor called their bluff.

The Let Philly Ride did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The coalition did not elaborate last week on what they meant by “extraordinary measures.”

Kenney issued a joint press release today with Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) Executive Director Vince Fenerty, saying that both would encourage the General Assembly to pass legislation “to regulate ride sharing operations like UberX and Lyft so the public can be assured these vehicles are inspected and insured, and that criminal background checks have been conducted on all drivers, and their drivers are properly trained.”

The statement added that they would work with the taxi industry, SEPTA, UberX, and Lyft to ensure equal access to transportation for disabled citizens.

Both Mayor Kenney and the PPA have said that their hands are tied by existing state law in regards to UberX and Lyft, which operate illegally in Philadelphia. They’re legal—for now—everywhere else in the state, operating under a temporary, two-year approval issued by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission in November of 2014. It’s unclear what will happen when those two years are up.

Perhaps coincidentally, another coalition held a conference call for reporters today to drum up support for legislation to legalize UberX, Lyft, and other “Transportation Network Companies” (TNC).

The Driving Philly Forward coalition, led by NetChoice, an eCommerce trade association that includes Lyft as a member, called for swift passage of State Senator Camera Bartolotta’s (R-Washington) bill to legalize TNCs across Pennsylvania. Joining NetChoice and Bartolotta on the call were representatives from the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverages and Tavern Association, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and the African American Chamber of Commerce.

Driving Philly Forward—not to be confused with Let Philly Ride—accused the PPA of being captured by the taxi industry it’s supposed to regulate, pointing to a Daily News article that revealed coordinated lobbying efforts among the PPA and taxi medallion owners against TNCs. Critics argue that the PPA, considered a Republican patronage machine, protects the taxi industry to keep the Authority’s stream of regulatory revenue and appurtenant jobs.

But PPA employment and revenue figures obtained by PlanPhilly belie that line of accusatory reasoning. The Authority’s Taxi and Limo Division makes up just four percent of the PPA’s 1,023 employees. Between 2011 and 2015, taxis generated just $26.5 million in revenues for the PPA, and limos another $4 million—less than three percent of the PPA’s $1.095 billion in revenues over that period.

Bartolotta said her bill would legalize TNCs across the state, including Philadelphia, but would allow the PPA to continue to regulate TNCs and taxis. The bill passed the Senate in a 48-2 vote and is now in the House’s Consumer Affairs committee. Bartolotta said the bill tries to legalize the TNC services without necessarily destroying the taxi industry by banning services like UberX and Lyft from picking up passengers from the airport, transit centers, and hotel taxi stands. Bartolotta also said the bill allows existing taxi companies to convert to TNCs if they offer hail-by-app services. The bill would require TNCs to meet insurance coverage minimums, vehicle safety requirements, and certain standards for driver background checks.

Taxi owners have complained that they face higher regulatory burdens than UberX and Lyft, who have ignored those laws. That means higher costs. Critics, including many passengers, say cabbies brought this on themselves, having fought the introduction of credit card readers and other amenities for years.

A representative for Kenney said the Mayor is generally supportive of Bartolotta’s legislation. The PPA, however, opposes the bill “as it is currently drafted,” said spokesperson Martin O’Rourke.

“It doesn’t provide the necessary regulatory mechanisms to ensure that cars are inspected, insured, that criminal background checks of drivers are conduct, and that drivers are trained,” said O’Rourke.


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