Public Utility Commission gives Uber 2-year license for Pennsylvania, except Philadelphia

The state Public Utility Commission has given ride-sharing service Uber a two-year experimental license to operate anywhere in the state except Philadelphia, where it has been operating despite a local ban.

The company connects passengers with drivers — who use their own vehicles — through smartphone apps. Under the license approved Thursday, Uber drivers must agree in writing that they will report ride-sharing activities to their own insurance companies.

Uber also must clarify details of its own corporate insurance policy with drivers and make them submit to background checks. Any vehicles used must also pass state safety inspections.

Questions about whose insurance would cover accidents have been among several dogging the non-traditional ride service, which at first provoked the ire of the Public Utility Commission by operating without permission in Pittsburgh starting last year along with Lyft, a competing ride-sharing service.

The commission has threatened fines and obtained cease-and-desist orders, but all that ended — for now, at least — with Thursday's 5-0 vote to grant the Uber license.

"The PUC has shown true leadership by standing for innovation, and paving the way for greater choice and opportunity for Pennsylvanians," Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said.

An experimental license was granted because Uber's service doesn't fit neatly within regulations designed to govern taxis, buses and other forms of public transportation.

State lawmakers are considering legislation to specifically regulate ride-sharing companies, but unless that passes, they'll be required to obtain experimental licenses.

"This case has brought to the forefront the need for both legislative and regulatory reforms in the passenger carrier space," Commission Chairman Robert Powelson said.

Lyft's plan to comply with regulations and receive a similar license is pending with the commission. The earliest the agency could approve a similar license for Lyft would be at its Feb. 12 meeting.

Powelson said the Public Utility Commission approval "exemplifies our stance that this innovative use of the public space should be encourage in a way that is consistent with protecting the traveling public, drivers and supporting economic development."