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The Philadelphia Parking Authority is taking action against ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, leaving drivers such as Raymond Reyes temporarily without a source of income

Credit: , Cindy Chen | Staff Photographer, ,

Calling an UberX for a ride to a Thursday night downtown is not exactly legal.

In most of Pennsylvania, ridesharing services such as UberX and its competitor Lyft, are allowed to operate, as long as they are granted a two-year agreement by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. However, in Philadelphia, UberX and Lyft are not legally approved to operate. UberBlack, however, is legal in Philadelphia as it functions similarly to a limousine service. In an attempt to crack down on these ridesharing services, the Philadelphia Parking Authority has been conducting sting operations.  

“It was not only the taxi medallion owners that was [sic] helping the Parking Authority; it was UberBlack drivers,” President of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania Ronald Blount said. “If there is someone burglarizing a neighborhood, it’s not uncommon for the police to come to the community and ask for help in locating the criminal that’s burglarizing the residents … it’s not unusual for the Parking Authority to go to the taxi owners and ask for help in finding these illegal UberX operations.”

In its sting operations, the Parking Authority targets individual UberX drivers by having undercover officers use the Uber application to call cars to pick them up. Parking Authority officers wait at the destination in their vans and impound the drivers' cars upon arrival.

Raymond Reyes, who has been driving for UberX since 2014, was a victim of one of the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s stings.

“What started my ridesharing advocacy was when the PPA took my car,” Reyes said.

Reyes normally drove at night, but one Saturday he chose to work in the morning instead. His day was going normally until he picked up a couple of riders in Center City.

“Throughout the whole trip, they asked the same questions — ‘how are you doing?’ and ‘how long have you been working?’" Reyes recalled. “They were trying to build a rapport with me, just to give me a false sense of security.”

The small talk ended when Reyes arrived at the riders’ requested destination in northeast Philadelphia.

“After I dropped them off and unlocked the door, the two people ran out of the car, and my passenger door was flung open and some … guy reached for my keys,” Reyes said. “My driver’s door opened, and I saw a Philadelphia policewoman, who told me to cease and desist.”

When Reyes looked around, he realized he had been completely blocked in by Philadelphia Parking Authority vans, and so he was unable to move his vehicle. The Parking Authority did not have arresting power, but the officers investigating Reyes were able to confiscate his Uber phone and impound his car.

“They kept my car for two-and-a-half weeks,” Reyes said.

At the time, driving for Uber was Reyes’ only source of income. Unable to pay his bills, his car was repossessed, and he was evicted from his home. This left him without a way to drive himself to receive the medical care he needed.

“During the two-and-a-half-weeks that I was without my car, I had doctors' appointments,” Reyes said. “I go to VA up in Brooklyn, New York, to get my treatment. Without a personal car, I was not able to do that.”

The Philadelphia Parking Authority did not respond by the time of publication. 

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