Lyft, Uber ride share companies see growing support

Published Jul 8, 2014 at 3:46 pm (Updated Jul 8, 2014 at 7:14 pm)

Ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber now have support from state legislators in both the house and senate. State Senator Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) has introduced legislation (SB 1457) that would require the companies to maintain records, establish training programs for drivers, enforce zero tolerance on drug and alcohol use and implement a comprehensive background check that the Public Utility Commission could verify. This follows State Representative Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny) introducing similar legislation in the house, and the PUC doling out thousands in fines against the companies and drivers, as well as seeking a cease-and-desist order against operations in Pittsburgh.

Meantime, support on the street for the ride share companies is as strong as ever.

Michael Ellis of Dormont said he’s used both Lyft and Uber at least a dozen times.

“I pull up the apps and cross reference the two to see whose drivers are closer,” he said.

Ellis, a Highmark employee who works in downtown Pittsburgh, said he takes the T to work and only uses the ride share services on time off.

“If I’m somewhere without a ride, or at a Pirates game during the week and don’t feel like waiting for the T, I’ll use them.”

Ellis said he supports the companies because they’re good for public safety.

“It reduces drunk driving incidents and gives people options – instead of getting behind the wheel.”

Jennifer Szweda-Jordan of Brentwood said she’s used Lyft’s service at least five times when in a pinch.

“We parked on Mt. Washington and had to get back to the meter. The line for the incline was too long, so I pulled up the Lyft app on my phone and saw there was a driver within six minutes of us ... Ashley (the driver) pulled up with her pink and purple hair and got us to the meter just in time.”

Jordan, host of The Allegheny Front on WYEP, said she’ll still use the bus as her main mode of transportation, but Lyft has provided a ride when she needed it.

“One time I was in the Strip District with a lot of groceries and the driver helped me carry them. It’s also just nice to be able to pull up the application and get a real sense of when and where the driver will be.”

Jordan said she understands she’s taking a risk when it comes to her own safety when asking for a ride through the program, yet riders won’t see fines or a citation. Drivers looking for relief likely won’t see any action from the legislature until September. And the PUC will likely take some time to vet any background check process the companies undertake as well as requirements for insurance.

House Insurance Chairwoman Representative Tina Pickett (R-Bradford) wrote to the PUC on July 2 asking the regulatory body to address insurance gaps. She said a June 23 public hearing revealed the newly formed Yellow Cab X could explain who is covered and when coverage starts and stops, but Lyft and Uber were unable to articulate the specifics of their insurance coverage requirements.

“I understand that Lyft and Uber are providing excess insurance coverage, and relying on the driver’s coverage to provide primary coverage. In reality, with the driver undertaking a commercial enterprise by providing rides to fare-paying customers, the livery exclusion in a driver’s personal policy will be in effect to the detriment of the driver and passengers,” she wrote in the letter.

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