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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Lyft, Uber ordered to cease operations (UPDATED)

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 5:10 PM

Reporter Dan Sleva has the latest on Tuesday's Lyft/Uber ruling:

Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft have been ordered to immediately cease operations in the City of Pittsburgh following a ruling issued late Tuesday. (Update: But in a late-day Twitter announcement, Uber said it planned to continue offering service through the July 4 weekend; see the end of this story for more.)

A panel of two Public Utilities Commission administrative law justices ruled in favor of the PUC Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement today, granting an emergency cease-and-desist order against both Lyft, Inc., and Uber Technologies.

The San Francisco companies began operating in Pittsburgh earlier this year, connecting contracted drivers with passengers and charging fares. Before launching, the companies were told by the PUC that they would need to obtain a certificate of public convenience. That is the permit granted by the PUC to any car service, taxi or broker that transports passengers for compensation in the commonwealth.

In the opinions, judges Mary D. Long and Jeffrey A. Watson sided with the PUC against Uber writing, “The evidence presented at the hearing established that neither Uber nor the drivers who provided rides to Officer Bowser when he initiated a service request using the Uber app hold authority from the Commission to provide transportation services. Officer Bowser paid for each trip that he took.”

Similar language was used in ordering Lyft to cease and desist its Pittsburgh operations.

“We are not blind or deaf to the public opinion, at least in the Pittsburgh area, that the transportation needs of many individuals are not adequately met by currently certificated carriers. Nor are we unmindful of the potential benefits of the service proposed by Lyft of ‘enhancing access to transportation alternatives, supplementing existing public transportation, reducing single occupancy vehicle trips, vehicle ownership and usage, and assisting the state in achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.’” The judges wrote. “Therefore, it may seem to some that our order here is contrary to the public interest in the ability of individuals to secure transportation in a timely manner.

“However, the Commission is charged with a higher duty than just the public convenience. The Commission is also charged with ensuring the public safety. The General Assembly determined that before transportation can be provided to the public for compensation, a certificate of public convenience issued by the Commission is necessary. It delegated authority to the Commission to determine how and by whom those services should be rendered by determining that ‘the granting of such certificate is necessary or proper for the service, accommodation, convenience, or safety of the public.’ Indeed, the public relies on this Commission to ensure that the traveling public is transported safely.”

Lyft spokesperson Paige Thelen said in a statement: “Today’s decision will make it harder for the people of Pittsburgh to access safe, affordable and modern transportation options. The city’s residents enthusiastically welcomed Lyft’s arrival in February; passengers have come to rely on Lyft for community-powered rides, and Lyft drivers enjoy the economic opportunity that it provides. We remain committed to finding a path forward for ridesharing in Pennsylvania and are working with elected officials to ensure that consumers continue to have access to peer-to-peer transportation.”

This is not necessarily the end of the road for either company in Pittsburgh. According to a PUC spokesperson, the companies have seven days to file briefs with the PUC. Then, within 30 days of receipt of the order, the commission will do one of the following: continue, revoke or grant a stay of proceedings, or determine that the certification was improper and return the matter to the presiding officer for resolution.

UPDATE: Uber, at least, appears to be sticking to its guns: In a tweet sent out late this afternoon, the company pledged that "Despite the order, we will continue to operate bringing PGH safe, reliable rides this holiday wknd."

Stay tuned.

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