When Cesar finishes his shift at the Inn at Penn each afternoon, he finds his Nissan Pathfinder and begins his drive home. His route, however, is not a direct one. When he gets to his car, Cesar turns on his UberX app and waits for a ride to be requested nearby.
“It’s not required to work a full eight-hour shift, which is a good thing — this is one of the best jobs ever,” Cesar said. He added that on busy nights, he could end driving as late as 10 p.m., and make as much as $200, a hefty supplement to his Inn at Penn salary.
Not everyone is as happy with UberX as Cesar is, as the battle be t ween Uber and the Philadelphia Parking Authority continues over the legality of the rideshare service in Pennsylvania. UberX is a cheaper version of Uber’s high-end, electronically-hailed taxi service that allows any driver approved by the company to transport passengers in their own cars.
For students who don’t want to pay the price for an Uber Black or Uber SUV ride, UberX can be an efficient option to travel to the city and suburbs. It’s another on-demand option that students prefer over waiting for taxis that don’t always frequent University City.
UberX’s cost is similar to that of Philadelphia taxi fare. UberX has a $3 base fare, while Philadelphia taxis have a base rate of $2.70. UberX is slightly cheaper per mile.
“I wasn’t actually aware that it isn’t legal yet,” College sophomore Talia Lieberman said . “I can still call an UberX on the Uber App on my phone. I hope it continues to operate.”
“UberX is an illegal act,” said PPA Executive Director Vince Fenerty in an interview Thursday. “The service is illegal throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There is no statute that permits them to operate as a rideshare company in this state.” Fenerty did not cite any laws or statutes that prohibit ridesharing companies from operating.
During the two days after UberX’s Oct. 24 launch, PPA Officials stopped six UberX drivers and impounded their cars.
“Our policy is to do everything we can to shut them down,” Fenerty said. He explained that when UberX drivers are caught, they will be fined $1,000 and have their cars impounded. Uber will also be fined $1,000 for “aiding and abetting an illegal taxi service,” as well as an additional $750 for operating an illegal dispatch system.
But Uber is fighting back. As of Oct. 15, more than 43,000 individuals signed a petition that asked for the state to legalize UberX, but legislators say that it is not going to be approved until 2015. Uber has spent almost $100,000 on lobbying efforts to get this bill, known as HB 2468 , passed in the house.
“Philadelphians have made it abundantly clear that they demand more transportation options in the city. UberX gives residents and visitors the safe, reliable and affordable ride they deserve,” an Uber representative said via email.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has been a known supporter of UberX and other rideshare services, such as Lyft, though taxi and limousine regulation doesn’t fall under his jurisdiction. On Oct. 27 he tweeted, “Facts: I strongly support having Uber/Lyft services in Philly. The #PPA, a STATE authority not run by the City, opposes them.”
Facts: I strongly support having Uber/Lyft services in Philly. The #PPA, a STATE authority not run by the City, opposes them.— Michael A. Nutter (@Michael_Nutter) October 27, 2014
Fenerty seemed unamused by the mayor’s support. “The mayor doesn’t have the authority to approve UberX,” he said. “Only an act of the state legislature and the senate could authorize UberX.”
Philadelphia cab drivers are beginning to see the benefits of driving an UberX, which doesn’t require a medallion — a required plate attached to taxis that costs around $500,000 — and is much safer for drivers.
Cesar, who used to work for his father’s taxi company in New Jersey, said he was robbed four times as a cab driver. He added that his father was initially troubled by his son working for Uber, but has now understands the benefits Cesar is enjoying from it.
“It’s not worth it for cab drivers to pay for medallions anymore,” said a Philadelphia cab driver. He’ll quit, he said, when he is sure he can drive for UberX legally instead.
Cesar is dissatisfied with the backlash UberX has been getting from the PPA.
“Uber does extensive background checks on all of the drivers and all of our cars are new and have insurance,” he said “All of the paperwork went through. If it was illegal [Uber] wouldn’t let us pick up here. It’s just the PPA making it hard.”
Fenerty says that drivers like Cesar are misguided in their understanding of the law. He believes that Uber is wrongfully telling its drivers that UberX is legal when it’s not.
“The majority of drivers who we have stopped and impounded their vehicles had said that they were unaware it was illegal and that Uber had told them to just go out and operate and if anything happened, they’d cover it,” he said. “So, Ube rX is advising them to go out and break the law.”
Many UberX drivers are indifferent to the PPA’s threats, and feel confident enough to continue operating, especially with Uber’s guarantee.
“The PPA doesn’t have arrest authority. It’s not like I can be arrested,” UberX driver Dan Carsor said. “It hasn’t affected me. Uber said they would cover me 100 percent.” Carsor, a high school administrator from Cherry Hill, N.J., drives for UberX on rainy nights and other peak times to make some extra money. When UberX was launched in Philadelphia, he started driving on the other side of the Delaware River, especially on big nights like Halloween.
“If [UberX] was illegal, I wouldn’t be doing it,” Cesar said.
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