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After ‘horses and riot gear,’ Uber X still available; Driver says ‘I wonder why they’re putting us in jeopardy’

Despite a weekend that saw the Philadelphia Parking Authority impound the cars of five UberX drivers and fine them $1,000 each, the ride-sharing service is still operating in Philly and has no plans to stop, a spokesman told Billy Penn Monday.

Asked twice whether Uber warned its drivers about the dispute over UberX’s legality in Philadelphia, Uber spokesperson Taylor Bennett told Billy Penn only that the company was responding to consumer demand by launching the service this weekend.

“We didn’t expect horses,” he said. “We didn’t expect riot gear. We came in because there was a need for ride sharing. They know we stand behind them 100 percent, and any cost they incur we’re going to pay.”

Bennett said Uber was covering the fines and the cost of the PPA impoundments on Saturday night.

PPA spokesperson Martin O’Rourke told Billy Penn he was not aware that UberX  was still available, and vowed to continue to impound any illegal cabs.

But an UberX driver who spoke to Billy Penn on the condition of anonymity said the company’s communications with drivers this past weekend consisted of an email on Friday saying drivers could now pick up passengers in Philadelphia for the first time – without a warning of a dispute over its legality – and a text message Monday thanking them for their services. The driver first learned about impoundments and fines from Billy Penn.

“I wonder why they’re doing that, putting drivers in jeopardy,” the driver said.

Bennett disputed that charge, and told Billy Penn that UberX drivers had been made aware of the PPA’s impoundments through “our communication channels.”

The text message, sent to drivers from Uber early Monday morning, read: “Huge thank you to all partners who helped Philly riders get around safely this weekend! We’re excited to say that uberX will remain available throughout Philly, and demand will be very high! As always, we have your back 100% and appreciate the quality service you provide on the Uber platform. Email us any questions at partnersphilly@uber.com.”

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The driver told Billy Penn UberX was presumably legal in Philadelphia based on an email sent to drivers from Uber on Friday. It read: “BREAKING NEWS: uberX is live in Center City! This is not a joke! This is not a drill! As of Friday October 24 at 7 p.m., you can now pickup in Philadelphia County!…If you come into this weekend (and you TOTALLY SHOULD) you will be making money all night long!”

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The email went on to guarantee $20 an hour in fares and a promise that Uber would make up the difference if drivers didn’t make that much.

The PPA, which regulates cabs in the city, has allowed the limo service Uber Black in Philadelphia but not UberX, because no state law or regulatory agency specifically covers ride-sharing services. The PPA considers UberX vehicles to be illegal taxis.

Bennett said UberX launched this Friday to “meet consumer demand,” particularly because of insurance issues with 25 percent of the city’s taxi cabs. But whether its drivers will want to work in Philadelphia remains to be seen. The driver who spoke to Billy Penn was considering leaving Philadelphia and staying in the suburbs, where UberX is not disputed.

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