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FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.
More and more, people are migrating away from the traditional call-a-taxi model, and are instead searching on their smartphones for the closest Uber or Lyft vehicle. You might remember the Beatles' lyric "Baby, you can drive my car," and now Uber and Lyft drivers likely are singing to themselves, "Baby, you can ride in my car." Copasetic, right? Well, maybe....
Just when this new business model has been taking the country by storm, along comes a cease and desist order commanding Uber Technologies and Lyft Inc. to immediately stop operations in Pittsburgh, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. The two judges who issued the order have ruled that Uber and Lyft cannot operate in Pittsburgh until they obtain the proper authority from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). And to top this off, the judges have taken the position that the order prohibiting operations will not be stayed while this matter is reviewed by the PUC.
So what is going on here? Ultimately and fundamentally, the judges are concerned about public safety. While in their order they recognize that the transportation needs of the citizens of Pittsburgh are not adequately met currently, they believe that the PUC has a higher duty than public convenience -- namely, public safety.
The PUC has reportedly stated that its primary concerns relate to proper inspections, adequate insurance, and appropriate driver background checks. Uber and Lyft drivers do not currently maintain certificates issues by the PUC, allowing them to offer vehicle passenger service for compensation.
There are indications that Pittsburgh residents generally have welcomed Uber and Lyft in their community. To the extent that there truly have not been safety or insurance issues beyond that to be reasonably expected with traditional taxi service, it seems quite conceivable that the Pennsylvania PUC will work productively with Uber and Lyft coming up so that they can obtain the requisite certificates.
Uber and Lyft have the ability to file a response to the judges' order with the PUC, and the Commission will render its decision within the next several weeks. Interestingly, a spokesperson for the PUC has reportedly stated that the Commission will work with Uber and Lyft to obtain certification.
It thus seems that rumors of Uber and Lyft's ultimate demise in Pittsburgh are premature. While there has been a cessation of operations, do not count out Uber and Lyft in the Pittsburgh or any other market. This appears to be a business model with legs -- or more on point, with wheels!
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.