Drivers for cabs, Uber, and Lyft may compete on the street, but they found common ground Thursday, petitioning the Philadelphia Parking Authority to better regulate ride-hailing in the city.
The unlikely alliance came at the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 8 union hall, where a PPA hearing sought public input on possible regulations for ride-hailing app companies. Comments were at times tinged with rage, as cab drivers and owners recounted how the arrival of Uber and Lyft has decimated their business by undercutting their prices and bypassing expensive regulatory requirements.
Drivers for the tech companies, meanwhile, worried about shrinking income due to competition within their own ranks. Uber and Lyft keep adding drivers in the region, and drivers from out-of-state have been coming into Philadelphia to compete with locals.
The PPA, though, said it's likely not going to do much about the issues that were of greatest concern to the people on the street. The November 2016 law that legalized ride-hailing companies states the PPA may regulate beyond the requirements established in the legislation, but can't make requirements that contradict the law.
"The law says rates do not need approval by the PPA," said Christine Kirlin, director of the PPA's taxi and limousine division. "Putting a cap on the number of vehicles — the way the law is written, we're not permitted to do that."
To complicate matters further, the state legislation says the PPA may add to the regulations for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), as Uber and Lyft are referred to, but doesn't have to. The hearing Thursday was the beginning of the PPA's exploration of what regulations it could enforce, but there's no guarantee any restrictions beyond what's in the law could come about.
That's an unsatisfying answer for Angela Vogel, an Uber driver passionate about fighting to protect her fellow workers. She sees ride-hailing drivers receiving little benefit from the multibillion-dollar companies whose apps they use.
"The reason why we have this state-appointed board was so we have some local power," she said of the PPA.
Solutions to drivers' complaints, Kirlin said, may require state legislators to amend the existing laws to restrict ride-hailing companies.
About 100 people attended the hour-and-a-half hearing, many of them clad in pink Lyft T-shirts. One was Lamarr Jones, who came with his 4-year-old daughter, Laila, after being told about the meeting by a Lyft public relations staffer. He loves the job, he said. He has a kidney condition that limits his ability to work, and driving for Lyft allows him to set his own schedule. He typically works about 40 hours a week, he said.
"I don't think I'd want to go back to working under someone," Jones said. "I'm loving this. I'm grateful and thankful for it."
He liked some of what he heard at the meeting, though, he said. Particularly the idea of restrictions on the number of ride-hailing drivers in the region and the possibility of a required minimum mileage rate that would increase drivers' pay.
"I agree with that," he said. "You don't want to be out there all day. You have a family."
There are those who feel the level of regulation in Philadelphia is just right. An Uber spokesman at the hearing said additional regulations were not necessary, that competition would ensure Uber's service was reliable and safe.
"Regardless of the regulatory requirements, it is ultimately consumers that choose the mode and provider of transportation they prefer, which means that we need to provide a consistently superior customer experience," said Jason Post in a statement read at the hearing.
A spokesman from Lyft, Sami Naim, was more open to changing regulations if the regulations stay within the limits of the existing state law, saying, "We look forward to future discussions and working with the agency at every step of the rulemaking process."
The advent of ride hailing in Philadelphia has hit the PPA hard as well. The authority has seen major declines in revenue to the taxi and limousine division, leaving it understaffed and barely able to keep up with the requirements of regulating the cab industry, much less the additional work it now faces overseeing Uber and Lyft.
Meanwhile, drivers are frustrated. Hafeez Chaudhry, who drives a cab he owns, fumed about competition from out-of-state drivers and the increased traffic he attributes to all the Uber and Lyft drivers in the city.
"They are driving on one-way streets the wrong way," he said. "They are doing violations every day."
Some of these issues the PPA potentially could improve, Kirlin said. She believed the PPA could institute standards for driver conduct, regulating who is allowed to drive for a ride-hailing company.