At a recent meeting in Harrisburg, Consumer Affairs committee chair and state Rep. Bob Godshall (R-Montco) issued an ultimatum to representatives of Uber, Lyft, and the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA).
Godshall told them to come back to the committee on April 27 with a compromise on new state legislation for a regulatory framework for the controversial ride-sharing services — failing which, the committee will write it themselves.
“I don’t want to hurt Philadelphia, but at the same time we have to get this thing settled somehow. I’m trying to make sure that as few people get hurt as possible…. All I’m trying to do is make sure there’s a little bit of fairness in this whole thing,” Godshall said Monday. “Consumers are entitled to insurance, background checks, and safe vehicles — and that’s all we’re looking at.”
This legislation to legalize Uber and Lyft under the regulation of the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission was introduced by state Sen. Carmen Bartolotta (D-Pittsburgh) last August. It passed the state Senate 48-2 in December, but has since been stalled in the House.
If it passes out of committee next week, it could go straight to the full house for a vote, and then on to the governor’s desk. But Godschall said he wants the compromise ready by Thursday or Friday for next week’s hearing.
Godshall said the delay in passing the bill has been purely because of the stand-off between Uber, Lyft and the PPA.
“Philadelphia has been the downfall of this thing because of the PPA,” Godshall said. “if it were not for the Philadelphia problem, we would have had this long ago. … It should have been taken care of months ago.”
Not one to play favorites, Godshall also had harsh words for Uber, who he accused of an “intimidation” for sending out a mailer to committee members’ constituents urging them to tell their representatives to support passing the bill.
“When you have all the money in the world at your disposal, I guess you can do a little bit of what you want to do,” he said.
Further heightening tensions, UberX drivers started picking up passengers from the Philadelphia International Airport last week, sparking the ire of drivers’ associations.
A meeting was scheduled for Tuesday between Uber, Lyft, the PPA and elected officials from Philly to discuss the compromise, according to a source familiar with the legislation.
“There is meetings and ongoing discussions, and we’re hopeful of a compromise as well,” said PPA spokesman Marty O’Rourke. “The goal is to ensure public safety.”
“We’re continuing to meet with all stakeholders to make sure that Philadelphians won’t lose access to affordable, reliable rides and economic opportunities,” said Uber spokesman Craig Ewer.
One sticking point in this legislation’s process was that it called for the Pennsylvania Utility Commission to regulate Uber and Lyft. But early on in the fight over this bill, the PPA said they should be in charge of regulating Uber and Lyft in Philly, not the PUC.
“It’s not a perfect bill, but we are supportive of moving forward,” said Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson. “There are not rules for ride-sharing in Philly right now. It’s inaccurate to make the claim that we’re illegal, because there are not rules that cover what we do. … I think this is something people want.”
Uber launched in Philly in October 2014, Lyft in January 2015. In 66 of 67 counties, Uber and Lyft have been operating under a temporary special license from the PUC that expires at the end of the year. If passed, this legislation would legalize Uber and Lyft statewide.
One politician from Philly who strongly supports passing the bill is state rep. Jordan Harris.
“In my neighborhood, ridesharing has been happening for years illegally —with the hackman,” said Harris, referring to illegal or “hack” cab service. “Many people in my district like ride-sharing. If you call a cab, you wait 45 minutes to an hour. … From my own experiences, I’ve been out, downtown, and cabs don’t stop.”
“There needs to be oversight, we don’t disagree on that, but it’s important that a compromise is reached.”