Ride-sharing firms shut down by two judges in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH – Two administrative law judges have agreed with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in forcing two ride-share companies to stop operating in Pittsburgh.

The judges issued their cease-and-desist rulings Tuesday, five days after PUC attorneys argued that both San Francisco-based companies, Lyft and Uber, were violating state rules that govern paid transportation services.

Uber, Lyft and other ride-share companies use smartphone apps to dispatch drivers who use their own personal vehicles to give people rides, and then share the fares they collect with the companies.

“Although the digital platform used to connect passengers with transportation is new and innovative, the proscription against using private vehicles for transportation without commission authority is hardly new,” Judges Mary Long and Jeffry Watson said in the opinion.

The companies plan to contest the emergency orders against them and, Uber, at least, said it plans to continue operating despite the order, which the companies have seven days to answer. The PUC has been threatening both companies with fines if they keep operating without first being regulated like taxi services.

The PUC commissioners next meet Wednesday, at which time they can accept, reject or fine-tune the judge’s decision, which remains in effect until then.

Both companies have permit applications pending with the PUC, which has threatened to fine 23 drivers cited last month $1,000 each, and to fine both companies $1,000 a day, retroactively. Lyft started up in Pittsburgh in February and Uber in March. The PUC pursued the cease-and-desist orders when the companies continued operating last month despite the proposed fines which, then, amounted to $130,000 against Lyft and $95,000 for Uber.

Uber issued a statement calling the cease-and-desist order “baffling, given Uber is already enabling drivers to make a living and contribute to the economy.” The company said Pittsburgh would be safer over the July 4th weekend if Uber was available to provide rides to those who were drinking over the holiday weekend.

Lyft said it remains “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.”