The PPA and Uber are finally ready to call a truce. At least temporarily.
The Philadelphia Parking Authority is granting a temporary exemption that would allow UberX and UberPOOL to legally operate in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention and to alleviate the stress on SEPTA’s popular Regional Rail service, Billy Penn has learned. The temporary authorization will last until September 30 and also resolves all outstanding legal disputes between the PPA and Uber.
A press conference is scheduled for Thursday morning at 11 at PPA headquarters.
Marty O’Rourke, a spokesman for the PPA, said the two organizations hoped the Pennsylvania Legislature will pass a bill to permanently legalize and regulate ride-sharing in Philadelphia before the temporary agreement runs out at the end of September. Legislation has been in the works for months.
He said the main reasons for the deal between the PPA and Uber were SEPTA’s Regional Rail issues and the DNC, which will bring an estimated 50,000 visitors to the city.
“Philadelphia,” he said, “will be in the world’s spotlight.”
Craig Ewer, a spokesman for Uber, said, “We appreciate the PPA working with us and doing what’s right for the city of Philadelphia.”
Interestingly, SEPTA and Uber had already struck a deal earlier this year. In a bid to ease congested parking lots at Regional Rail stops, the transit agency started formally advising riders to just take an Uber to their stop. These rides to and from 11 Regional Rail stations would be discounted by 40 percent.
UberX launched in late October 2014. The first weekend it was available in the city the PPA held a sting operation — yes, involving police horses — that led to the impoundment of five cars. The stings continued on a less frequent basis over the next several months, but Uber kept offering its UberX service (its more expensive services, such as UberBlack have been allowed by the PPA). By October 2015, Uber had provided rides to 700,000 Philadelphia residents and visitors and signed up at least 12,000 drivers.
Cabbies protested UberX on multiple occasions by parking their cars and stopping traffic around City Hall. Jon Feldman, the GM of Uber Philly, denounced the PPA as “a publicly-funded lobbyist.”
But the two sides were also showing signs of making peace. It started last year when the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill that would have permanently legalized Lyft and Uber everywhere in Pennsylvania except Philadelphia. A few months later, Philadelphia and the PPA got added into the bill. Both Uber and the PPA publicly expressed support for it.
In May, the House Consumer Affairs Committee passed an amended version of the bill. The full House was expected to vote for it and make UberX and Lyft legal in time for the Democratic National Convention. But that vote never happened, and the bill has now likely been shelved until the fall while the legislature attempts to pass a budget. Uber and the PPA, as well as cab companies, have had strong lobbying representation in Harrisburg.