The administrative law judges (ALJ) of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission have recommended civil penalties in the amount of $49.8 million against ride-sharing company Uber, for operating without Commission authority last year. That’s in addition to the $72,500 the ALJ are recommending for what it terms violations of discovery orders and obstructing litigation proceedings.
The fine must be approved by the board of commissioners, so it’s far from final. Both parties have 30 days to file exceptions in the case, and although the ALJ’s order calls for payment within 30 days of a final order in the case, any exceptions would put a hold on the process. No payment will be made until the case is fully adjudicated, and that’s if the commissioners render a decision making payment necessary.
If approved, this would be the largest civil penalty ever imposed by the PUC, according to spokeswoman Robin Tilley.
Uber and its smaller rival Lyft moved into the Pittsburgh area in early 2014, before seeking licenses from the PUC. The San Francisco-based companies pair drivers in their own vehicles with passengers via smartphone apps. But the PUC, which oversees taxi and limousine services in all parts of the state except Philadelphia, fined the companies for operating without the necessary certificates. Both companies are now operating under two-year experimental licenses in most of the state, but permanent status can only come from a change to the PUC code. Only the state legislature has the power to change the PUC code.
“We’re extremely disappointed in today’s recommendation,” says Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett. “We look forward to presenting our case and coming to a reasonable resolution consistent with precedent set by the Commission in similar rulings. Uber has made repeated good faith efforts to settle, all of which have been rejected [by the PUC enforcement arm].”