Activists: Uber and Lyft Tax Should Fund Philly Schools, Not the PPA

The PPA says it needs the money to regulate ride-sharing companies.

Hannah Sassaman of the Media Mobilizing Project address the Parking Authority. Photo by Jared Brey.

Hannah Sassaman of the Media Mobilizing Project addresses the Parking Authority. | Photo by Jared Brey

Public school advocates packed the Philadelphia Parking Authority’s monthly board meeting on Tuesday to question a change in a state bill that would allow ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate in Philadelphia — and drive a guaranteed fee to the PPA with little or nothing left for the school district.

Philly Mag reported on Monday that the state bill was initially written so that the school district and PPA would share a 1 percent tax on ride-sharing revenues, with two-thirds going to the district and one-third to the PPA. But a version approved by a state House committee earlier in May changed those provisions so that the PPA would be guaranteed a $2 million yearly fee from each of the largest ride-sharing companies, while the schools would get a portion of what’s left over. According to current estimates of how much revenue the tax would generate, it’s unlikely that there would be much, if any, money left for the schools.

“There is no place in this world wherein a new revenue stream should go to the Parking Authority ahead of the school district,” Councilwoman Helen Gym told the board Tuesday morning.

Gym was joined by a few dozen school funding and disability rights activists. They described the need for more resources in public schools — one high school student, Siduri Beckman, said her school is perpetually low on toilet paper — and said the district should get a share of any new revenue streams generated by the city. The arrival of Uber and Lyft is an opportunity to drive new money to the district, said Donna Cooper, leader of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. Bishop Dwayne Royster, of POWER Interfaith, said the PPA negotiated the fee deal out of, at best, benign neglect for the schools. The PPA should make a moral decision, not a business decision, Royster said.

But the bill has absolutely nothing to do with schools, said PPA director Vince Fenerty after the board meeting was over. (Fenerty and other PPA reps met privately in the boardroom for about 25 minutes after the meeting, while the activists slowly filtered out of the lobby, and then invited reporters back in to ask questions.) The bill was all about legalizing Uber and Lyft in the city and making sure the PPA has enough revenue to regulate the services properly, he said.

The PPA calculated that its Taxicab and Limousine Division would operate at an annual loss of around $3.8 million with the additional responsibility of regulating ride-sharing companies, or Transportation Network Companies. That estimate assumes that the legalization of TNCs would reduce the PPA’s revenue from taxis and limousines by about $1.3 million. To keep from operating at a loss, the PPA negotiated a fee structure that would cover its projected costs, Fenerty said.

When the earlier version of the bill was floated with the two-thirds to one-third revenue split, Fenerty said the PPA decided right away that it wouldn’t cover its costs. He said the PPA used its Harrisburg lobbyist to “tell [the authority’s] story,” and that deputy managing director Brian Abernathy helped mediate a fair deal.

“We believe we came up with a better deal in order to be able to have the enforcement that’s necessary to run a [Taxi, Limousine and TNC] Division, and be able to do it with the resources we need to do it with pride,” he said.

“As the executive director of the Parking Authority and our board,” he added, “I have a fiduciary responsibility to make a business decision, not a moral decision.”

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