Judge orders UberX and Lyft to stop operating in Philly, but the businesses aren't saying they'll comply

A Common Pleas Court judge ordered UberX and Lyft to cease operating in Philadelphia on Thursday, but both companies were still operating Thursday night, with Uber saying it had no intention of shuttering any of its services. 

“While our appeal is pending at the Commonwealth Court, Uber will remain available for riders and drivers,” Craig Ewer, an Uber spokesman, said in a statement. “This situation makes it clear that Harrisburg needs to act: Pennsylvania must have permanent, statewide ridesharing legislation as soon as possible.”

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Rasheedah Ahmad, a Lyft driver, checks her iPad to see if any other Lyft drivers are in the vicinity.

Judge Linda Carpenter's injunction is the latest move in an ongoing tug-of-war over the legality of ride-hailing apps in Philadelphia. The injunction was issued before noon Thursday and went into effect immediately. 

The suit that led to the cease-and-desist order was filed on behalf of taxi drivers against the Philadelphia Parking Authority in July. In its statement, Lyft noted it and Uber were not defendants in the suit.

"Today's hearing was about a case that did not involve Lyft and which Lyft was not given the opportunity to respond," said Chelsea Harrison, a Lyft spokeswoman. "We are reviewing the order and evaluating our legal options."

Lyft and Uber can pursue legal opposition to the injunction in Commonwealth Court, lawyers said, but the companies said they had taken no action Thursday night. Carpenter's order stated that the companies could be found to be in contempt of court if they continue their peer-to-peer services in Philadelphia. Evidence that the companies had defied the order would need to be presented to Carpenter to obtain a contempt-of-court finding. 

By the end of the month the landscape could change again. The state legislature has promised to take up the issue of regulating ride-hailing apps when it returns Oct. 17, and it could pass a regulatory law that would supersede the dispute surrounding the lawsuit.

The suit was filed by Ron Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Philadelphia, and others, including Matt Clark, a member of an advocacy group for people with disabilities. The suit argues the PPA is failing to provide equal protection to all the providers of car services in the city, said Ted Millstein, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

 It also alleges the city's disabled population is underserved by Uber and Lyft because the firms do not have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act as taxi companies do, Millstein said. The suit is separate from, though similar to, a lawsuit against the PPA filed by medallion owners in federal court. 

"The authority will comply with all lawful orders of the court and is continuing to review this matter," Martin O'Rourke, a PPA spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

Though UberX and Lyft have operated in Philadelphia for only two years, they've been widely adopted, to the disadvantage of the city's taxi companies, which have reported lost revenue and a massive decline in the value of medallions. Uber alone served more than 500,000 riders this summer, according to legal documents.

"I would be more comfortable with Uber, honestly, than some of these taxi services," said Zinzi Zingitwa, a Philadelphia federal worker whose sentiments were echoed by passengers who consider Uber and Lyft more convenient and  enjoyable than cabs.

Another regular UberX user, Kyle Laidig, a Philadelphia freelance designer and artist, said he sees Uber and Lyft as companies that can exploit workers who have little ability to advocate for themselves. Trying to shut down the companies, though, is the wrong way to go, he said.

"What I think is going to be the more sage agenda is implementing a regulatory system," Laidig said.

Ali Razak, president of the Philadelphia Limousine Association, agrees. He also represents Uber Black drivers and has attempted to create an alliance for UberX drivers. He said he thinks the judge's decision could only hurt the more than 1,200 drivers who connect with passengers through the Uber or Lyft apps.

"I swear this is not right," he said, particularly because state legislation may be only weeks away. "They all need to sit down and do the proper thing. We want the same rules and regulations."

The latest developments on ride-hailing apps' legality center on how much regulation the industry should be subjected to, and who should handle it. A temporary authorization issued in July by the Pennsylvania General Assembly protected the industry in Philadelphia, but that expired last week. On Tuesday the PPA, which regulates the city's taxicabs and limousines, said it considered the industry an illegal service in Philadelphia, though it wouldn't say how zealously it would enforce the rules. 

“You can say something is illegal all you want, but unless you do something about it, it's meaningless,” Millstein said.

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