The Pennsylvania Legislature is having to act fast to settle on a way to regulate transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. That’s because administrative law judges for the state’s Public Utility Commission have recently recommended a mind-boggling $50 million fine against Uber.

Pennsylvania has proven a tricky state for TNC operations. In 2014, both Uber and Lyft began business in the Keystone State, before law and regulation had an opportunity to clarify their legal status. Philadelphia, the largest city, promptly outlawed the services outright and actively began to combat their presence by impounding vehicles. For its part, the PUC chose to establish a regulatory baseline and grant two-year provisional licenses to the services, valid in 66 of the state’s 67 counties (all except Philadelphia County, which shares the same boundaries as the city).

Almost a year after Uber began business in the state, the PUC has handed down the record fine on the basis of the six months in which Uber operated in the state before the two-year provisional licensing period began. The two administrative law judges recommending the fine claim that Uber’s behavior “warrants a serious penalty to deter future violations.”

The specter of the huge fine, while daunting, may have had a salutary effect on the long-term viability of TNCs in Pennsylvania. Before it was levied, ongoing efforts to legalize TNC activity on a statewide basis repeatedly stalled in Harrisburg. But following news of the fine earlier this month, the state Senate found a way yesterday to pass to the House of Representatives a bill that would legalize the services.

Senate Bill 984, sponsored by state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R–Monongahela (who enjoyed a career as an actress before joining the Senate, appearing in films such as the 2014 teen romance “The Fault in Our Stars”) passed the body 48-2 and would establish insurance and safety standards for TNC services.

The insurance requirements contemplated by the bill, ($50,000 per-person and $100,000 per incident for bodily injury and $25,000 for physical damage) are reasonable and in keeping requirements throughout much of the rest of the nation. The background check requirements are similarly standard. Overall, the bill has many of the same characteristics as the insurer/TNC “national compromise” language first presented at the Phoenix meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Session will reconvene in Harrisburg Dec. 2. At that point, since the session is set to end Dec. 9, the House will need to act quickly to pass the bill.

Unfortunately, even if approved before the end of session, the legislation would have no retroactive legal bearing on the fine. Still, there is no doubt that it would give pause to the PUC as it decides whether or not to approve and pursue that measure to a decision. For that reason alone, the Pennsylvania Legislature should pass S.B. 984.

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