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A Philadelphia agency was caught teaming up with taxi companies to fight Uber

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

When Uber came to Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Parking Authority wasn't happy about it. The agency regulates the city's taxi industry, and Uber and Lyft were — at least in the PPA's view — flouting the law and operating taxi services without permission. In 2014, the PPA waged a sting campaign intended to drive the companies out of the city or force them to comply with the city's burdensome taxi regulations.

So Uber went to the state legislature. The company sought legislation to rein in the PPA and clearly establish that ride-hailing services are legal in the state, setting up a fight with incumbent taxi companies that didn't want to face extra competition.

The PPA is a taxpayer-supported government agency, so you might have expected it to remain neutral in this kind of legislative fight. But according to records obtained by the Philadelphia Daily News, senior PPA officials, including general counsel Dennis Weldon, actively strategized with taxi officials to kill the legislation and preserve PPA's authority over Uber and other ride-hailing companies.

And lobbying records show that "the PPA has paid $565,000 to the Philadelphia firm Pugliese Associates since 2007," according to the Daily News. "Recently, company president Rocco Pugliese has been lobbying against legislation supported by UberX and Lyft."

In short, the PPA — a taxpayer-funded agency — appears to have used taxpayer funds to lobby against Uber.

Uber has pounced on the revelations, holding a press conference to denounce the PPA as biased and untrustworthy. Uber's Philly manager, Jon Feldman, described the PPA as "an unelected, unaccountable body, and now we know it's untrustworthy as well."

But PPA executive director Vince Fenerty says his agency has done nothing wrong. "In spite of the impression Daily News reporter William Bender falsely tried to create in his recent article, the PPA has not picked sides," he said in an emailed statement. "The PPA does not oppose UberX or Lyft operating in Philadelphia."

Rather, Fenerty says, the PPA wants Philadelphia to have the same regulatory model that governs Uber in New York. "New York City requires UberX and Lyft drivers to be trained and criminal background checks performed, and their vehicles be inspected and insured - none of which is verifiable with the current law as it exists for Philadelphia," according to Fenerty.

But Fenerty faces an uphill battle convincing legislators to accept strict regulation of ride-sharing companies. Uber is operating in dozens of cities across the country, and many municipalities have formally changed their regulations to accommodate smartphone-based taxi services. Uber has successfully portrayed regulators like PPA that oppose their entry — or insist that they conform to onerous taxi regulations — as reactionaries standing in the way of progress.

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