Protest against UberX brings Center City traffic to a standstill

Hundreds of taxis and Uber Black cars surrounded City Hall Wednesday afternoon, blocking traffic for more than an hour to protest the ride-sharing company Uber.

Traffic was snarled on Broad and Market streets in the heart of Center City as drivers blared their horns. Other drivers stood in front of the cars holding up signs that read things like “Did you know? UberX/Lyft are illegal in Philly.”

It’s the latest demonstration of growing friction between traditional taxi drivers, and now the regulated Uber Black, the company’s fancier service, against the low-cost UberX.

“They work under the table …  they don’t pay tax, we pay tax,” said taxi driver David Adeshiyan. “We have to keep our city clean by paying tax. I can’t be an UberX driver because I wouldn’t be doing the right thing.”

Adeshiyan and other taxi drivers say since UberX drivers have fewer overhead costs for things like insurance and licenses, they have an unfair advantage. For instance, Adeshiyan said he has to pay $450 a week for his taxi medallion, something the city requires to drive a cab. Because they’re breaking the law by operating in the city, UberX drivers don’t have that expense.

After city tow trucks showed up, the protest began to break up. Police briefly arrested one driver, but released him almost immediately with a citation for disorderly conduct.

Max Colmon was watching the honking drivers and wondered what all the fuss was about.

“I don’t use taxis just for the simple fact that they’re inconsistent,” Colmon said. “They’re late, sometimes the drivers overcharge you, takes you the wrong way, you can kinda feel it. It’s kind of a weird transaction. Hospitality is always good.”

Philadelphia passengers summon UberX drivers through the smartphone app, something they’ve done more than a million times in the first six months of city operation, according to the company, which launched the service in Philadelphia last October.

Since then, the Philadelphia Parking Authority has imposed a $1,000-a-day fine on Uber for operating illegally. And the PPA has also impounded UberX cars in sting operations, though officials admit that it’s difficult to catch them, since the privately owned cars are unmarked.

In November, the state Senate passed a bill intended to legalize ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft across the state. It’s been stalled since House Republicans said they wanted more time to study the issue.

An Uber spokesman said the company’s success in Philly shows that customers want the service. He  said the PPA rules are “outdated,” calling the city’s insurance requirement “onerous.”

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