Uber, Taxis Both Reject New PUC Rules
Seldom do taxi interests and ride-share companies agree on anything -- unless, of course, they can find a common enemy. Evidently, they see one in the very entity that tried to serve as a peace-broker during a long slew of regulatory battles: The California Public Utilities Commission.
On Wednesday, Uber Technologies and The Taxicab Paratransit Association of California (TPAC) filed separate applications to appeal the PUC's September ruling on rideshare startups, rechristened "Transportation Network Companies" by industry officials -- a name that never quite caught on.
Ironically, both appeals have a surface similarity. They accuse the PUC of "erroneously" giving itself authority to resolve the dispute and draft new rules for everyone. Both filings urge the commission to redefine rideshare companies in a way that removes its authority to regulate them.
But they're still at cross-purposes with each other. In the words of TPAC's lead counsel, Paul Marron, Uber and other startups are appealing for "unregulated anarchy," while taxis are requesting that local rules be instituted unilaterally. In effect, both sides are deploying similar arguments to reach opposite goals.
Uber maintains that, as a technology company, it shouldn't be subject to PUC oversight in the first place, a theory that renders even a favorable ruling null and void. Though the PUC already rejected this position, Uber's attorneys are sticking to their guns. In their filing they cited a previous ruling that absolved a tour bus company from charter-party regulations, after deciding that the company merely acted as a broker, and didn't operate a fleet of its own.
A spokesman from Uber declined to comment.
The TPAC also argued that rideshare companies don't fall under the commission's jurisdiction, albeit for different reasons. Since Uber, Lyft, and SideCar vehicles qualify as de facto cabs, TPAC lawyers argue, they should fall under municipal rather than state purview. As such, they should abide by the same local standards for emissions, fleet size, and disability access that all cabs have to follow. Municipal laws like the one prohibiting a San Francisco cab from picking up a hail in Oakland should apply to Uber as well, they argue.
At this point, it's unclear how the standoff will end. Both the taxi and rideshare sides fundamentally disagree with the state's definition of a "Transportation Network Company," and both want to shift the very terms of this debate. The PUC has 60 days to consider both appeals. If it acquiesces to either one, it absolves itself of judicial authority.
That outcome seems unlikely, even if both Uber and the TPAC have powerful teams to execute the legal strategies. (Uber has reinforcements Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; TPAC officials are relying on Marron's Southern California). But once the 60-day period ends, both sides have the option to pursue their claims in California's Supreme Court. Taxi companies also have a $500,000 war chest for yet another taxi lawsuit dangling on the horizon, which might make the commission more inclined to negotiate.