Ride-Share Fix Must Apply to Philly Parking Authority as Well as PUC

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By some weird accident of history, the city of Philadelphia doesn’t have the same taxi regulator as the rest of the state. Whereas the Public Utilities Commission sets the rules for taxis in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, the Philadelphia Parking Authority is the taxi regulator for Philly.

It’s great to see Bill Peduto and his state allies, including our Brian Sims, are pushing a legislative fix for the derp that’s been flowing out of the PUC on ride-rental share companies Uber and Lyft in recent months – the latest being this cease-and-desist order barring them from operating in Pennsylvania. But it’s critical that the legislative fix – which will probably take the form of a new “transportation network” category in the PUC code – also apply to the PPA as well as PUC. Ideally, the legislation would make the PUC the regulator for all Pennsylvania, and take that power away from the PPA.

The PUC and the PPA unfortunately do not seem to understand that the job of the regulators is to promote competition for the benefit of consumers, not protect taxi fleet monopolists or medallion owner rents – one of the worst affronts to taxi drivers’ livelihoods here in Philly, as the Taxi Workers Alliance will tell you. PPA kicked out ride-share service Sidecar last summer, and Uber X won’t come here even though they’re expanding across the river in South Jersey because they say “the city of Philadelphia has proven time and time again to be against innovation.”

This is nuts. As former transportation head of DC and Chicago Gabe Klein explains in this CityLab post today, the future of transportation is increasingly about these networked services, and it’ll eventually give way to autonomous vehicles. Dumb laws meant to protect a wealthy minority of fleet owners shouldn’t be allowed to stop this innovation, and any state-level legislative fix needs to apply to Philly as well as Pittsburgh. The taxi regulation power is too important to leave to the PPA – a known Republican patronage potty.

This entry was posted in Economy, Issues, Transportation.

8 Responses to Ride-Share Fix Must Apply to Philly Parking Authority as Well as PUC

  1. bwilmotBrian says:

    I know this is about the PUC/PPA distinction, but why are we supposed to love Uber and Lyft so much? They aren’t ride share companies. They are taxi services with a fancy app. They basically enter a market and purposefully break the law while cab drivers are forced to follow the rules. There are all kinds of rules on taxi cabs that ensure the public is served in a somewhat non-discriminatory manner. The rules should be reformed to address the problems of “taxi fleet monopolists and medallion owner rents” but that doesn’t mean we should simply encourage the rule breakers who want to operate with impunity just because they have a fancy app. Some of the existing rules are stupid but many were born from past experience and we should be careful about abandoning them all because of “disruptive technology” which sometimes just means creating a libertarian paradise.

    I don’t understand why generally progressive individuals are so obsessed with these services. Maybe this is specific to the experience of PA, where they haven’t gotten as much of a hold as elsewhere, but looking to some other areas of the country, Uber’s actions are disgusting. The mentality seems to be starve the beast (taxi cabs) rather than reform that system, which starts to sound like a libertarian talking point.

    The world we could see with a liberalized regime is the ubers of the world (in Philly) serving center city to the exclusion of the rest of the city, holding inadequate liability insurance to cover their passengers, and causing uncontrolled increases in fares (effecting the most vulnerable) during their “surge pricing.” Or you regulate them exactly as other taxis, and then Uber and Lyft will fight you cause that isn’t their model (they fight reasonable regulation of their service tooth and nail). They are free market fundamentalists and we should be very careful about normalizing their behavior without full thought and adequate consideration for the impacts. Other alternatives (which no one seems to discuss) may be better solutions.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Liberals should like them because widespread rides-for-hire are an arrow pointed straight at the heart of the one-car-per-person norm that is the source of most of the problems with our transportation and development politics. The more people can comfortably give up their cars and use walking+biking+transit+taxis instead, the more progressive our transportation and land use policies can be – more density, more of a constituency for transit funded, no parking minimums = less expensive housing, etc.

      I support Bill Peduto’s plan for a transportation network option to be regulated by PUC. That would ensure that these services are legal, giving us potentially many many more taxis on the road, while clarifying the insurance requirements. Where I’m coming from here is that solo-driving is incredibly wasteful economically, and is a climate disaster. We need to make it as easy as possible for regular people to coordinate over mobile to rent the empty seats in their cars if they’re going the same places as people nearby – carpooling, basically, except the small amount of money changing hands adds an incentive to carpool that clearly hasn’t been there to date, given the low carpooling numbers. I don’t think it will totally cannibalize the taxi industry, but if this does turn out to obviate the need for a formal taxi industry, so be it. What matters is the service.

      • Brian says:

        But by legalizing these services in the construct they are requesting you aren’t achieving the goal of less cars on roads. You’re merely adding more taxi equivalents to the streets. A taxi ride is no better than a car ride driven by an individual. The taxi wanders around, burning gas and using the streets (as does Uber and Lyft….) between fares. It may reduce car ownership in some circumstances, since there are more travel options, but at large these are replacing taxi journeys. People are making this an income source.

        It also needs to be made explicitly clear that Uber is not a car pooling service. This is not an example of a driver coming home from work seeking to link up with a passenger to travel the path they would have been traveling anyways. Uber is a taxi service with a fancy app. The app is nice, I’ve used uber. It is convenient. The taxi associations and companies are foolish for not being more innovative. But, to think we are solving some urban transportation issue with this service is ridiculous.

        If you were instead phrasing this reform in terms of legalizing strictly carpooling, that would be fine, but someone needs to explain how this is possible without having people see financial incentive to start a taxi service, which is what essentially has happened with every one of the non-Uber rideshare services.

        One last point, “What matters is the service.” That is a simple statement to make for middle income, white customers. It ignores the rampant discrimination of the taxi industry, which many of the regs have sought to address. I wonder how many Ubers wander around North and West Philly at night. Who do I complain to if an Uber refuses my fare to a bad part of town or just refuses to pick me up in a bad part of town? My only recourse at the moment is a bad rating in stars, but that doesn’t solve the lack of pickup in the first place.

        I’m sensitive to the crappy service of taxis. My sympathy level for them is low, but we’re treating these services as a white knight for something they aren’t. Maybe then we can address the real issues at play here.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          The urban transportation issue we’re solving with a more robust ride-for-hire market is the toxic one-car-per-person norm, and the parking entitlement politics that comes with it. The “real issue” in cities is that there’s no space for all the cars, so we need fewer cars per person, and for more of the existing cars to become shared (rented, whatever) vehicles that are in use more often. Most cars are parked over 90% of the time.

          As for the rating system, Uber X drivers get worse ratings and fewer fares (referrals) from the app the more they refuse service. We have no way of holding regular cabs accountable for racism, which is rampant. At least with these services there’s a way to track it. I’ll look forward to an actual study on this, but so far it looks like there’s some interesting anecdotal evidence that Uber service is less racist than traditional cabs. http://www.racialicious.com/2012/11/28/cab-drivers-uber-and-the-costs-of-racism/

  2. GDub says:

    All your ideas are spot on, but would anyone seriously suggest that the role of a utility commission is to “promote competition?” Their task is to mitigate monopolistic markets.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Is that not the same thing?

      • Gdub says:

        I would say no. Utilities generally are monopolistic by choice or circumstance, and the public has utilities commissions to mediate between the utility and the public. We dont have a PUC to regulate the price of hamburgers.

        In the case of “livery” the public sets up a utility structure that trades uniformity (or minimum standards) of price and service in exchange for a limited number of providers. This builds a reliable “taxi brand” that the public generally trusts (you don’t expect to be fleeced or robbed by a medallioned cab driver) even if the prices may be higher (or lower) and supply lower than they otherwise would be.

        The bigger question is whether taxis should be a utility at this point, or if there are easier ways (i.e. “licensing” unlimited number of providers) that could more freely allow the market to flow given current technology. However, as with beer sales, the fact that people have paid a ton for these golden tickets creates a strong counterweight that needs to be dealt with somehow.

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