Emails between the Philadelphia Parking Authority and taxi owners about legislation to limit ride-sharing services in the city are evidence of the PPA actively fighting against cab competitors, rather than just regulating, Uber representatives said Friday.
"The PPA is unelected, unaccountable, and now we know untrustworthy as well," Jon Feldman, Uber's Pennsylvania general manager, said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
The parking authority has authority over taxis in Philadelphia, and receives money from the industry in the form of medallion sales and licensing fees. UberX and another popular service, Lyft, have ignored those regulations and, though they operate illegally in the city, offer competition that is hammering the taxi business. UberX has reported offering 700,000 rides in the city since debuting, and taxi medallions have plummeted in value since Uber and Lyft debuted.
The PPA disputed that they were working against Uber, saying that it has sought a regulatory framework that would ensure Uber drivers were vetted and their vehicles were safe. The emails with medallion owners, obtained by the Philadelphia Daily News, were an effort to get input on pending legislation, and Uber was contacted as well, PPA officials said.
"It was a collaborative process to craft legislation that would protect the public interest as well as bring the ride-sharing operation under regulations," said Martin O'Rourke, PPA spokesman.
The dispute between the regulatory agency and the popular car service drew attention from Philadelphia's elite Friday.
"The parking authority is a regulatory agency, and regulatory agencies are supposed to be looking after the interests of consumers," said David Thornburgh, president of the Committee of Seventy, a civic watchdog group. "When there are changes in the marketplace, I don't think they should be picking sides."
Former Mayor Michael Nutter tweeted, "Obstruction/Restraint of Trade/Discrimination. All parts of a coordinated campaign to stop Uber & Lyft from operating in PHL. Great lawsuit!"
One legal expert, though, said it wasn't clear whether the PPA acted inappropriately. Jim Rodgers, who handles civil litigation at Dilworth Paxon, said government can take regulatory stands that are anticompetitive in some cases under the state action doctrine.
"There is clearly a policy under which they're authorized to limit the number of medallions," he said. "They're authorized by the legislature to do that."
The emails were exchanged in fall 2014, around the time UberX began operating in the city. They showed PPA officials urging taxi medallion owners to lobby lawmakers to "carve out" Philadelphia from any bill that would legalize UberX and Lyft, a competing service, in Pennsylvania. Both services operate legally in the rest of the state.
"FYI. The House is the problem. We all need to focus there, hard. Is your guy OK?" PPA general counsel Dennis Weldon wrote to Everett Abitbol, cofounder of Freedom Taxi, in September 2014.
UberX began serving Philadelphia a month after the email exchange.
During the Friday news conference, Feldman urged the state to pass a bill that would create a regulatory framework for UberX and competing services operating in Philadelphia. The bill has passed the Senate.
The emails also showed that the PPA and the cab companies cooperated in stings against UberX drivers.
At the news conference Friday, Uber drivers talked about run-ins with PPA that resulted in their cars being impounded and fined for operating an illegal cab service. One driver, Raymond Reyes, 43, of Camden, said two people posing as customers asked for a ride to Northeast Philadelphia, and when he arrived at the destination, police and PPA officials were waiting for him. His vehicle was impounded and he found himself stranded.
"I avoid Center City these days because I'm so nervous this could happen again," said Reyes.