Ride-sharing company Lyft satisfies terms for temporary OK to operate in Pittsburgh area

Ride-sharing company Lyft has satisfied insurance and other requirements to begin operating temporarily in the Pittsburgh area.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission last month gave conditional approval for Lyft and its competitor, Uber, to obtain temporary licenses to operate in Allegheny County — which includes Pittsburgh and its nearest suburbs. The temporary licenses can be renewed every 60 days until companies' applications for permanent "experimental" licenses can be heard. The services need "experimental" approval because they operate differently than taxis and other transportation companies and are not specifically covered by PUC regulations.

The ride-sharing companies use smartphone apps to dispatch drivers who use their own personal vehicles to give people rides. The drivers then share the fares they collect with the companies.

The PUC announced Thursday that Lyft had complied with the conditions necessary for temporary licensure and can operate. Uber is still trying to satisfy the conditions and cannot.

Among other things, the temporary licenses require the companies to cover drivers when they're working. The drivers have to notify their personal insurance companies that they'd be using their vehicles for ride-sharing. The vehicles also have to meet PUC safety standards and be less than eight years old with less than 100,000 miles. Drivers must also have background checks and be 21 or older with valid licenses.

City spokesman Tim McNulty said Mayor Bill Peduto — who has supported the ride-sharing companies — was "happy" about Lyft's approval but said, "We're really focused on a long-term solution."

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, is pushing a bill that would create a category for ride-sharing companies under PUC auspices called "transportation network companies." If the Legislature passes the bill when it returns from recess in September, ride-sharing companies would be licensed like other transportation services and would not need the special "experimental" approval both companies still seek.

Uber's hearing for permanent "experimental" license status begins Monday at the PUC's Pittsburgh office. Lyft's hearing begins Aug. 27. Both companies have separate applications pending to operate permanently in Allegheny County as well as statewide.