Mayor Kenney and City Council need to jump into conversations about letting another state agency take over the role of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which seems to be drowning without a lifeline.
Competition from ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft has hit the city’s taxi industry hard. Fewer fares mean less money for the cab companies and, consequently, less revenue to operate the PPA, which taxes the people-hauling businesses.
Staff writer Jason Laughlin reported that PPA’s Taxicab and Limousine Division collected only about $780,000 of the $3 million it projected from assessments on taxi cabs in the past fiscal year. As a result, the division’s $8.6 million budget for fiscal 2017 was cut to $4.7 million for the new fiscal year.
The taxes collected on Uber and Lyft vehicles don’t make up for the revenue lost from cabs. That loss was deepened by a reduced assessment on taxis mandated in the legislation that authorized the ride-hailing services to operate in Philadelphia.
Because of the lost revenue, the PPA division that is responsible for regulating cabs, limos, and ride-share vehicles has not filled a dozen positions made vacant through attrition and has laid off seven other employees.
The PPA is required to inspect 60 ride-hail vehicles a month and 25 percent of all taxis and limos each year. But with only eight inspectors — when it used to have 12 — the addition of Uber and Lyft’s 22,000 vehicles has overwhelmed the agency.
The approximately 1,500 cabs operating in the city is about 100 fewer than a year ago, but there has been an increase in complaints to the PPA about cab drivers refusing to take credit cards and trying to overcharge riders by not turning on their meters.
Noting the PPA’s dwindling revenue and increased responsibility, State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.) has suggested returning the PPA’s duties to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which oversees cabs and ride-sharing everywhere else in the state.
But the PUC, which did oversee transportation services in Philadelphia until 2005, says it would prefer not to go down that road again.
Rep. Maria Donatucci (D., Phila.) says the answer may be to either hike the assessments the PPA charges cab and ride-hailing companies or give the authority the flexibility to move money from parking enforcement or one of its other divisions to where it’s needed more.
Given the PPA’s history of misspending and mismanagement, perhaps the state agency should be replaced with one run by the city. Kenney and Council should take up that topic.
The state has allowed the city’s Republican Party to use the PPA to build a patronage system that provides jobs for cronies. The deal included a promise to help fund city schools, but the PPA has shortchanged them.
Returning the PPA’s responsibilities to the city makes sense, but only with safeguards to make sure the new agency keeps its commitment to Philadelphia schools and doesn’t become just another version of the PPA run by Democrats.