Uber won’t pay $50 million Pa. fine without a fight

 A model demonstrates how to use Uber's app to hail a ride. (Image courtesy of Uber)

A model demonstrates how to use Uber's app to hail a ride. (Image courtesy of Uber)

The popular ride-sharing company Uber is once again staring down major fines for illegally operating in Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday, a pair of administrative law judges with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission recommended a $50 million fine against Uber. The San Francisco-based company operated in Allegheny County — home to Pittsburgh — for six months in 2014 without PUC permission and obstructed legal proceedings, according to the ruling.

The vast majority of the unprecedented fine is tied to a period starting in February 2014, before the company was granted so-called “experimental authority” to operate in most of the state.

The rest of it is tied to accusations that Uber obstructed legal proceedings tied to the civil complaint that lead to this week’s recommendation.

The fine is far from finalized. It must first be approved by the commission and could ultimately be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.

“No payment will be made until the case is fully adjudicated. And that’s if the commission renders an opinion that requires payment,” said commission spokeswoman Robin Tilley.

Uber has 20 days to object to the ruling. Parties then have 10 days to reply to those objections.

In a statement, Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said the company is “extremely disappointed” in the recommendation.

“We look forward to presenting our case and coming to a reasonable resolution consistent with precedent set by the Commission in similar rulings. Uber has made repeated good faith efforts to settle, all of which have been rejected by [Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement].”

The commission’s recommendation comes as the company prepares to fight fines in Philadelphia, where ride-sharing services are illegal. The Philadelphia Parking Authority has fined Uber more than $300,000 for operating in the city without approval over the past year.

“I can only compare them to bootleggers,” said PPA executive director Vince Fenerty, They just operate because they’re just a very big bully corporation.”

An administrative hearing has yet to be scheduled.

In the meantime, lawmakers in Harrisburg are hoping to pass legislation aimed at legalizing and regulating ride-sharing services across the state, including Philadelphia.

The bill, introduced by state Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington), would require background checks and driving records, among other things.

“The goal here is consumer protection,” said Bartolotta.

A 1-percent tax would be levied on all rides in Philadelphia. Two-thirds of the revenue would go to city schools, the remainder to the PPA.

The Philadelphia International Airport would also be off-limits, as well as taxi stands around the city. The bill has cleared a Senate committee.

Bartolotta said she’d like to pass the measure before the end of the year. She said that might be difficult given that lawmakers are still hashing out a state budget for Gov. Tom Wolf to sign.

Uber was granted “experimental authority” for two years starting in November 2014.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.