Most Americans are at least vaguely familiar with the Christmas Truce of 1914. Occurring during the early stages of World War I, the inspirational tale of a tenuous cease-fire during which German and British troops emerged from their respective bunkers to join together in a Christmas celebration has long captured the public imagination.
Fewer Americans are aware of the decidedly less heartwarming Uber/Lyft/Philadelphia Parking Authority Truce of 2016, but its demise is a considerable loss for those pulling, perhaps against all odds, for a reasonable and timely conclusion to the protracted battle that holds the City of Brotherly Love behind the rest of the nation.
Two months ago, the looming responsibility of hosting the Democratic National Convention led to a rare, temporary thaw in the oft-hostile relationship between the ridesharing services and the Philadelphia Parking Authority. I wrote at the time in the Philadelphia Inquirer that wariness was advisable about the near-term prospects of a permanent peace:
Given that ridesharing legislation has been lingering in the Legislature for more than a year, the prospects that all issues will be resolved in the handful of days before the agreement expires rest on a level of enthusiasm that has heretofore never been demonstrated.
Now, mere days after the temporary agreement expired, Common Pleas Judge Linda Carpenter has ordered UberX and Lyft to cease operations within Philadelphia. Neither company has officially declared whether it will heed the order. Lyft issued a statement noting that neither it nor Uber were actually named in the case, and that the company was not given an appropriate opportunity to respond. Nonetheless, while the continued legal salvos may represent a potential boon for the city’s entrenched taxi industry, taxicabs’ anticompetitive gains are a loss for the city as a whole.
The R Street Institute’s most recent Ridescore report found that, of the 50 cities examined, Philadelphia ranked dead last in its regulatory friendliness to ridesharing services. The report noted the city’s “failure to improve has left it alone at the bottom as the only city to receive a failing grade” on friendliness to ridesharing.
While a handful of other cities around the nation also have struggled to modernize their regulatory frameworks, most have improved over time. Philadelphia stands alone as a major city in which negotiations have turned truly toxic, with representatives of the cab industry going so far as to compare Uber to the terrorist group ISIS. The industry has also used its clout within the city government to have ridesharing drivers personally harassed.
As of 2015, about 2,500 Philadelphians drove for Uber alone and thousands more rely on both Uber and Lyft for transportation. State lawmakers’ inaction, aside from ensuring the city upholds its “worst in the nation” title, continues to punish both the drivers who work for these services as a means to make ends meet and the customers who repeatedly ask for additional choice in the marketplace.
Uber’s official response to today’s decision rightly notes that the only long-term solution to this problem is for state lawmakers finally to take seriously the ridesharing legislation that has remained stalled for more than a year.
“This order makes it even more clear that the clock has run out for Harrisburg to pass a comprehensive ridesharing bill,” the company said. “We’re calling upon leaders in the House to put ridesharing to a vote as soon as possible.”
Image by trentemoller