Philly Judge Calls B.S. on UberX … 14 Times

A judge has issued rulings in 14 PPA vs. UberX cases, siding with the Parking Authority each time.

An UberX car getting impounded by the PPA.

An UberX car getting impounded by the PPA.

Ever since UberX debuted in Philadelphia proper in October of last year, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which has authority over all taxis and limousines in the city, has maintained that the hugely popular car service is illegal. PPA investigators have impounded dozens of UberX cars and cited their drivers in sting operations, and Uber has fought those actions in court. Well, the judge in those cases recently began issuing rulings, and he has sided against Uber every single time.

In response to many of the impoundments, Uber came up with a three-pronged defense, which was presented to Judge Sheldon Jelin last year in hearings at the PPA’s Taxi & Limousine Division headquarters in deep South Philadelphia. In recent judgments, Jelin tore those defenses apart.

First, Uber argued that the PPA has no jurisdiction over UberX. Why? Because while the PPA has legal authority over taxis and limousines, UberX is neither a taxi nor a limousine, the company claimed.

Uber calls UberX not a cab or limo service but a “Transportation Network Company (TNC),” whatever that is. Jelin disagreed with Uber’s laughable assertion — an assertion that reminds us of the time that the Google-backed SideCar service tried to convince the PPA that it was a “ridesharing” provider, which didn’t exactly work out well for SideCar — writing that “the fact that [UberX] identifies itself by another name (TNC), does not change its character.” If it looks like a cab, and it acts like a cab…

Next, Uber tried to say that no law was broken, because the investigators weren’t actually charged for their rides. Uber has regularly offered free $20 credits for new riders, and the PPA enforcers took advantage of these deals when booking rides. And if you’re just giving someone a free ride, how can this be illegal?

“The issue is not whether the passenger paid for the trip, but whether the driver received compensation for the trip,” wrote the judge in one decision. “In each case, the driver received compensation from Uber.” In another decision, the judge pointed out that the undercover rider was, in fact, charged 90 cents, because the pre-promotional fare came to $20.90, leaving a small balance after the promotion was applied.

Finally, Uber maintained that the PPA’s sting operations amounted to “entrapment.” Those stings worked like this: A plainclothes PPA investigator would sign up for an Uber account and request a ride, and then a driver would show up and take the investigator to his destination, where a tow truck and uniformed enforcement officers awaited.

Sly, yes. But entrapment? No, said the judge:

Entrapment is the illegal act of tricking someone into committing a crime so that the person tricked can be arrested. It is the luring of a person into a compromising situation.

That is not the situation here. The driver was not lured into anything. He held himself out as being ready, willing and able to provide transportation service. He did so willingly and voluntarily. He was not tricked into anything. He knew exactly what he was doing. It was a knowing, voluntary act nowhere near entrapment.

Since October, the PPA has impounded 42 UberX vehicles, two of which remain locked away. Judge Jelin has ruled in 14 of the cases, and more decisions are expected soon.

“These decisions prove what we’ve been saying all along since the very beginning,” says William Schmid, deputy director of the PPA’s Taxi & Limousine Division. “They are violating the law, and they need to come into compliance.”

So is Uber going to bring its “Transportation Network Company” into compliance, which would mean, at the very least, certification and inspection by the PPA? Uber chose not to comment for this story, but after more than one million UberX rides in the Philadelphia area, we think they are just going to laugh all the way to the bank.

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