“The issue isn’t drivers against drivers”: Uber and Taxi Drivers Clash & Protest Philadelphia City Hall

by Sean Riley

On Friday around 12:30 p.m., taxi drivers, black-car Uber drivers and other local residents gathered to protest the stagnant state of licensing in Philadelphia and what they perceive to be exploitative practices carried out by Uber. 

The traditional black-car Uber service is allowed in Philadelphia, but UberX, an additional service provided by Uber, is not. Despite being licensed in 66 out of 67 Pennsylvania counties, UberX is still not allowed in Philadelphia.

What looked on the surface like an active protest against “illegal” Uber and Lyft drivers was, in reality, much more nuanced. Many of those at the event were in fact angry that Uber or Lyft drivers have been forced to drive illegally due to the state government's inaction.

“The issue isn’t drivers against drivers,” Ronald Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, said. Blount and many other drivers in Philadelphia feel that Uber is pitting workers against each other by not following existing regulation and continuing to operate illegally in Philadelphia.

For example, Blount said Uber will entice drivers to work for their premium, licensed Uber Black service, which requires drivers to own a luxury black car, but then undercut these drivers by operating the illegal UberX service. 

Many of the UberX drivers were unwilling or reluctant to speak — given the illegal status of their current work — but one driver, Muhammad Islam, said,  “The [Philadelphia Parking Authority] needs to legalize UberX, or we will continue to drive illegally.”

How the PPA is involved adds another layer to the story entirely. 

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, the PPA, a state-run body, colluded with the taxi industry to keep UberX illegal. The PPA said it's merely doing its job by enforcing state law and ensuring a level of safety for riders. The PPA provides inspections and regulations that Uber says it takes care of on its end. According to a statement from the company, each UberX trip in Philadelphia is covered by a minimum of $1 million in primary commercial liability insurance. Uber also claims that it ensures all of its driver’s cars have passed state inspections. [MORE]