The Pope in Philly

Uber ‘planning ahead to the best of our ability’ for Papal visit, but no decision on operating in Center City

What’s an Uber to do as the Papal visit nears and traffic restrictions are being levied?


Philadelphia last week received definitive information about the traffic restrictions that will be levied during the Papal visit, including highway closures and a “traffic box” around a large swath of Center City. But decisions are still being made about what exactly can operate inside those boundaries, including what ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are to do for the weekend.

Mayor Michael Nutter said during a press conference that car traffic will be allowed to operate freely inside the traffic box in Center City, which includes 38th Street to the west, South Street to the south, the Delaware River to the east and Girard to Ridge to Spring Garden to the north. But here’s the catch: If you have a car and leave the traffic box, you won’t be able to drive back in with it.

What that could mean for Uber and cabs still remains to be decided. Nutter said last week that a decision on how taxis will operate in and around the city hasn’t yet been made, and Uber drivers Billy Penn spoke to have said they’ve heard nothing about protocols for the weekend in terms of where they can and should be operating.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said Uber is “planning ahead to the best of our ability,” saying that the ridesharing company is still encouraging anyone who wants to earn some extra money to sign up to drive to be an Uber driver ahead of the September Papal visit. He also said the company has been having “productive conversations” with the leadership of the World Meeting of Families about ways Uber can help transport attendees.

“We’re excited that Philly will see such an influx of visitors, and are thrilled to be able to connect them with safe, reliable rides throughout the week,” Bennett said via email. “We look forward to the continued release of information in the coming weeks and will message driver partners and riders about how detours and closures may affect them in September.”

Oh yeah, one minor detail: Uber and Lyft aren’t technically allowed to operate in Philadelphia. At all.

Republican candidate for mayor Melissa Murray Bailey last week called for restrictions to be eased on Uber and Lyft ahead of the Papal visit, saying “what we are forgetting is that people’s lives don’t stop when the Pope gets here.” The Philadelphia Parking Authority which technically regulates cab companies and has taken over regulating Uber, too, hasn’t responded to Bailey’s call to let up.

Maybe you remember: When Uber launched in Philadelphia last fall, the PPA put together sting operations to impound the cars of Uber drivers because the service isn’t technically allowed in Philadelphia. As of mid-June, 44 Uber vehicles and 16 Lyft vehicles had been impounded, according to the PPA. There’s no law explicitly banning it, but there also isn’t a statute that allows it. Mayor Nutter and City Council members have come out in support of Uber operating in the city, but the state-run PPA has continued to hold firm that it’s a hack cab company.

It’s unlikely the state will pass a law by September that legalizes the use of ridesharing services in Pennsylvania before September (they’re a bit busy with other things), so what Uber can do for the Papal visit weekend and whether or not the PPA will enforce its rules against ridesharing isn’t yet clear.

At least you can look forward to biking.

Want some more? Explore other The Pope in Philly stories.

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