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Friday, August 15, 2014

Hearings for ridesharing companies begin next week

Posted By on Fri, Aug 15, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Two San Francisco ridesharing giants are headed back before PUC judges in Pittsburgh starting next week to fight for permanent authority to operate in Allegheny County and the state.

First up is Uber, which has hearings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, at the PUC Pittsburgh office at Piatt Place, Downtown. Lyft will have its hearing on Aug. 27 and Sept. 3. These hearings will determine whether certificates of public convenience will be issued for the companies. The PUC grants the license for companies to transport passengers for compensation.

Lyft and Uber launched in Pittsburgh without first seeking approval from the PUC. Each company connects contracted drivers with passengers seeking a ride through a smartphone app and charges a fare based on distance and time. The hearings were made necessary when official protests were filed by local taxi companies. YellowZ, Pittsburgh Yellow Cab’s ridesharing service was not protested, and was approved without a hearing at the end of May.

As Uber prepares to face the multiple protests filed against it, the company is still working to meet the requirements set by the commission when it granted the company temporary operating authority last month.

Uber, along with competitor Lyft, was issued a cease and desist order on July 1. Each company continued to operate despite the orders. However, at a full meeting of the PUC Commissioners held on July 24, both Uber and Lyft were granted temporary authority to operate while the companies’ full permanent applications were considered. In order to lift the cease and desist orders, each company had to meet conditions set by the PUC.

The conditions included having full primary insurance to cover rideshare drivers from the time they open the app to solicit rides until they drop passengers off at the completion of the ride, file tariffs explaining rates, complete driver background checks, offer driver training and have drivers notify their insurance companies in writing that they were working for a ridesharing company.

Lyft beat Uber to the punch on Thursday, picking up its temporary certificate of public convenience for transportation in Allegheny County. The temporary authority is good for 60 days from the date of compliance. Lyft’s will expire Oct. 14.

“The immediate requirements to receive their certificate were to file the tariff and the insurance. (Lyft) fulfilled those requirements,” PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says. “We are and will continue to work with the company to notify the insurance companies of their drivers and all of the other requirements from the order.”

Taylor Bennett, a spokeswoman for Uber, says the company is not far behind. It is working to meet the PUC’s requirements and will have an announcement next week.

In a letter sent by Uber to the PUC dated August 7, the company says it is working with its insurance company to expand its policy to be in compliance with the requirements.

Previously, Uber and Lyft offered excess liability policies that only kicked in after a driver’s personal insurance was used. Insurance companies are critical of that practice, saying that personal insurance policies are voided when vehicles are used for commercial transportation.

Kocher says the hearings are on separate applications, and Uber’s not meeting the requirements for the emergency temporary authority will not have an effect on whether it is granted a permanent license.

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