Philly judge orders Uber, Lyft to stop operating in city [updated]

A Philadelphia judge has ordered ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber to cease operations, which could potentially force the companies to shut down in the city. 

An Uber spokesman said Thursday night the company plans to appeal the order, and, while that appeal is pending, it will remain available for its drivers and their riders, which would be violating the court order.

Meanwhile, parking authorities have vowed to start targeting Lyft and Uber drivers in enforcements actions starting on Friday. 

The order issued by Common Pleas Judge Linda Carpenter follows a lawsuit from taxicab drivers and disabled-rights activists against the Philadelphia Parking Authority for not clamping down on the car-hailing services. 

Uber has an estimated 10,000 drivers in the Philadelphia area, compared to about 1,000 Lyft drivers, according to court documents. 

If regulators catch the companies operating in Philadelphia, they can be found in contempt of court, according to Carpenter’s order. That’s on top of fines the PPA can assess. 

“The order makes it even more clear that the clock has run out for Harrisburg to pass a comprehensive ride-sharing bill,” said Uber spokesman Craig Ewer. “We’re calling upon leaders in the House to put ride sharing to a vote as soon as possible.”

In the suit, cab drivers argued that the ride-hailing companies were skirting stringent regulations, and activists said Lyft and Uber vehicles are not wheelchair accessible.

In her order, Carpenter specifically cited the companies’ noncompliance with the American with Disabilities Act as a reason for the cease and desist order as other claims in the suit move toward hearings. 

“It’s a big victory. Will it have immediate impact? Probably not. It all depends on how Uber reacts to it, and it all depends on what would happen at this contempt hearing, which would likely happen,” said attorney Ted Millstein, who is representing the cab drivers in the suit. It’s one of a slew of lawsuits targeting Uber since it began operating in Philadelphia in 2014. 

To be found in contempt of court, though, the PPA must catch company drivers in action, something that has proved tricky since the cars are unmarked.

That said, the PPA has nabbed them in the past through sting operations. In response, Uber has at times blocked ride requests from undercover regulators, according to attorneys representing the taxicab drivers. 

Ahead of the Democratic National Convention, the PPA struck a 90-day nonenforcement agreement with Lyft and Uber, a deal that recently expired.

And with a statewide Lyft and Uber legalization bill stalled in Harrisburg, regulators in Philadelphia have said the two companies will be treated like an illegal car service. Yet Uber maintains that state lawmakers have promised to pass a bill next week that legalizing ride-hailing in Philadelphia and across the state. 

In addition, the PPA also announced it is relaxing some regulations on taxicabs in an effort to even the playing field as taxi ridership and the value of medallions have plunged since the high-tech competitors entered the city. 

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