Legislation that would provide a remedy to the Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) ruling that bars Uber and Lyft from offering ride-sharing transportation alternatives in Allegheny County has been introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Wayne Fontana.
“It is clear that constituents are interested in ride-sharing and exploring other transportation alternatives,” Sen. Fontana said. “Options should be made available to riders in the Pittsburgh area through new technology utilized to connect ride with rider.
“My legislation will provide a permanent solution for the ride-sharing program that will fill gaps in the region’s transportation network.”
PUC administrative law judges ruled that the ride-sharing companies were operating outside the law and issued cease-and-desist orders to prevent the companies from offering their services. The law requires transportation companies that provide rides to have licenses issued by the commission.
Uber and Lyft, and other ride-sharing service companies, use a software platform that enables riders to connect with drivers using smartphone technology. The driver and rider connect and a fee is charged for the transportation.
Sen. Fontana said his legislation addresses concerns that have been raised by critics regarding ride-sharing transportation companies.
“My legislation resolves outstanding issues and would enable the ride-sharing companies to continue operating,” Mr. Fontana said. “The bill includes provisions that promote safety and security for riders while compelling companies to maintain sufficient insurance coverage for contingencies.”
Provisions of Sen. Fontana’s legislation (Senate Bill 1457) include:
• Requiring ride-sharing companies to maintain detailed records;
• Establishing driver-training programs;
• Enforcing a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol use and the crafting of a complaint reporting system;
• Implementing a background check system and the developing specific driver guidelines that deal with past criminal, moving violation or driving under the influence history;
In addition, Sen. Fontana’s measure requires drivers to have an updated photo in plain view and the driver would not be permitted to pick up passengers who “hail” the vehicle while in use.
The Brookline lawmaker said the transportation company must also maintain specific levels of insurance for liability, medical payments, comprehensive, collision and uninsured/underinsured coverage. The legislation also specifically identifies vehicles that may be used for ride-sharing and a detailed inspection protocol to alleviate safety concerns, he noted.
Given the adverse PUC ruling that spurred the drafting of the bill, Fontana said his approach to solving the issue was focused on short-term relief and a long term solution.
“In order to address shared-ride services sufficiently and quickly, I believe a multi-faceted approach is needed,” Sen. Fontana said. “While my legislation is making its way through the legislative process, I believe the PUC should act expeditiously and issue experimental permits so ride-sharing can operate now.
Mr. Fontana said he strongly supports applications pending before the PUC – filed by Uber and Lyft -- that would enable them to operate on an experimental basis.
“I’ve also introduced a resolution (Senate Resolution 427) today in the Senate asking the PUC to act immediately and approve the permit application.”
He said he introduced the Senate resolution calling on the PUC to approve the permits as an interim step prior to the passage of his legislation. Rep. Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny) has introduced a similar measure in the state House of Representatives.
“There is no question the ability to connect rider with ride using smartphone technology is an exciting concept that will revolutionize the transportation for years to come,” Mr. Fontana said.
Sen. Fontana said his legislation will likely be referred to the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee. He said he will urge the committee to schedule the bill for action in September when the Senate reconvenes.