PlanPhilly

Uber gets reprieve from judge's cease-and-desist, remains illegal, but now uncertain what PPA will do

Philadelphia's ride-hailing saga—starring Uber, Lyft, the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA), and a greek chorus of taxi owners, cab drivers, and disability advocates—has had more twists and turns, back stabbings and double crosses than a soap opera. And late Friday evening, word broke of yet another plot development.

On Friday evening, Uber won a stay from a judge’s cease-and-desist order issued Thursday. That does not change the fact that Uber’s cheaper uberX service, along with Lyft, remains illegal in Philadelphia, thanks to a temporary authorization law eclipsing last week before the General Assembly could approve a new bill. But it is now, once again, unclear whether the PPA will ticket and impound uberX and Lyft vehicles.

Uber challenged Common Pleas Judge Linda Carpenter’s order on Friday by initiating it’s own suit against the PPA and Judge Robert Simpson of the Commonwealth Court, an appeals court above Common Pleas, granted a stay to the order. The stay merely sets the order aside for now, while the appellate litigation continues.

For would-be passengers, this changes little. Both transportation network companies (TNCs) swore to continue operations despite the cease-and-desist order and sunset law. In the past, the companies paid all fines and legal fees of drivers who were ticketed or had their cars impounded. The PPA previously said they would not stop TNC cars that had already picked up passengers.

Carpenter’s order came in response to a lawsuit by Ronald Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, against the PPA, which alleged that the PPA’s failure to enforce taxi regulations against TNCs amounted to unconstitutional discrimination. That lawsuit is an amended filing of a pro se lawsuit back in July, where Blount was joined by Matthew Clark, an advocate for the disabled who uses a wheelchair, in an attempt to block the PPA’s questionable 90-day authorization deal with Uber. The original lawsuit was shelved after Harrisburg included a temporary legalization of TNCs in the middle of a budget bill; that authority ended on September 30th, and the PPA soon after announced plans to resume enforcement against TNCs.

Since the lawsuit between Blount and the PPA was first filed, Clark was dropped as a plaintiff. Meanwhile, Uber remained a non-party to the suit, meaning that the company declined to intervene in litigation, despite the potential that the outcome might--and did--impact them. In the order issued Thursday, Carpenter ruled that TNCs violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance, and issued an injunction against uberX and Lyft, which could have led to a contempt of court proceeding.

Simpson’s stay order directs the PPA to “take no action in accordance” with Carpenter’s order, which also ordered the PPA to enforce taxi laws against TNCs, meaning issuing tickets and impounding cars. The PPA had previously said that they would begin enforcement actions against TNCs like uberX, as state laws require it to do as the regulatory agency for taxis in Philadelphia. PPA representatives were unavailable to comment.

In response to Simpson’s stay, Uber released the following statement: “After today's victory in Commonwealth Court, Uber is no longer subject to Judge Carpenter's cease and desist order. Uber celebrates riders and drivers staying on the road in Philadelphia, but the Commonwealth still needs permanent ridesharing legislation from the General Assembly. If Harrisburg does not act in the next two weeks, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians could again lose access to affordable transportation and meaningful income opportunities.”

Carpenter first declared uberX illegal back in February, when individual uberX drivers represented by Uber-hired attorneys challenged fines imposed by the PPA.

About the author

Jim Saksa, Interim Managing Editor

Jim Saksa is PlanPhilly's multi-modal transportation reporter and interim managing editor. As a reporter, he's focused on how Philly gets bikes, walks, drives, rolls, and rides around the region. 

Jim lives in Point Breeze and has also written for Slate, Philadelphia City Paper, and Technical.ly Philly. He tweets @Saksappeal and you can reach him at jsaksa@whyy.org.



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