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Legalize Uber, save the schools? Amended bill awaits in Harrisburg

Ride Uber to save the schools? This could be the new reality.

A bill under consideration in the state Senate that would legalize ride-sharing services in Philadelphia was amended and passed through a committee last week, and the new amendment would send part of Uber taxes in Philly straight to the long cash-strapped school district.

Here’s how it would work: A one percent tax will be levied on your fare for a ride in the city, according to language recently amended in Senate Bill 984. Of that 1 percent, two thirds would be remitted quarterly to the School District of Philadelphia and the rest would go to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which regulates Uber in the city currently.

The bill, introduced by western Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Camera Bartolotta, was voted out of the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure and is now on second consideration, where any further amendments would need to be made before it goes to a vote.

If passed as is, the bill could theoretically bring in some $30 million to the School District of Philadelphia over the next decade. Using Uber’s own projections and assuming the ride-sharing service continues to grow in Philadelphia at an exponential rate as it has in cities where it’s been around longer, Uber stands to make more than $5 billion in Philadelphia alone through 2025 — a significant portion of the $8.5 billion Uber could stand to make statewide in the same amount of time.

From there, 1 percent of that total is about $50.1 million that will be split over the years between the school district and the PPA, with the school district receiving about $34 million of that.

It’s a rosy outlook to assume the exponential growth of Uber, which has 12,000 drivers in Philadelphia already, will continue at the same rate over the next 10 years. But a 1 percent tax for UberX would be hardly recognizable, especially for riders who average $12.50 per trip and would effectively see a 12 cent increase per ride on average.

Bartolotta’s bill in the state Senate seems to be the ride-sharing regulation bill that’s getting the most traction. It unanimously passed through committee and would legalize the operation of UberX and Lyft throughout the state.

In the rest of Pennsylvania, ride-sharing companies are operating legally on a two-year license granted to them by the Public Utility Commission. It’s different here in Philadelphia where cabs are regulated by the state-run Parking Authority, and so UberX and Lyft’s presence in the city is still technically not legal.

The PPA has recently come out in support of some sort of framework that would regulate ride-sharing here and in the rest of the state. In addition to the 1 percent tax, Bartolotta’s bill also includes regulations for insurance and driver background checks.

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