Uber Puerto Rico opposes being regulated by Public Service Commission
SAN JUAN – The Senate Innovation, Telecommunications, Urbanism and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Miguel Laureano, continued Friday with its public hearings for Senate Bill 525, authored by the president of the upper chamber, Thomas Rivera Schatz.
The House of Representatives also has its version of the bill, H.B. 1804, which would create the Public Service Commission (PSC) Administrative Transformation Act, which would transfer and centralize regulation of the commercial ground transportation industry in Puerto Rico to that commission.
The first deponent was Zoraida Rodríguez Montenegro, in representation of ride-hailing company Uber, who thanked the opportunity on behalf of the company’s more than 4,000 driver associates.
“Our driving partners are Puerto Rican fathers and mothers. Roughly 36% were unemployed before using the app to offer services. For 40% of the driver-partners, Uber represents their only source of income,” she said.
After vouching for the company’s success, which offers its service through a mobile application, Rodríguez outlined her concerns with the proposed legislation.
“We must ask whether over-regulation is the way or if, on the contrary, we should seek to remove restrictions such as those that today prevent the entry of vehicles from transportation network companies to airports and hotels. The Public Service Commission goes the opposite direction,” she argued while mentioning some of the regulations the agency tried to impose on Uber and other similar companies.
Rodríguez Montenegro affirmed the company is staunchly opposed to the bill.
Attorney Melissa Meléndez, in representation of emerging company Pink Car-Pro Car, which will begin operations in July, said the bill needs greater legislative expression, because it currently lacks minimum requirements for Transportation Network Companies. When questioned by Rep. Jorge Navarro Suárez, the lawyer said that, unlike Uber, the company she represents has been in communication with taxi drivers and has faced both support and resistance.
Meléndez explained the difference between Pink Car-Pro Car and Uber.
“We have two aspects in our application, one that is of general use and another…that is the specialized application for the transportation of women and children. The women would be transported by women drivers and only women passengers, and children who are by themselves, 7 to 15 years old, who have mobile devices,” she said.
A legal adviser at the Insurance Commissioner’s Office, attorney Alexander Adams, appeared on behalf of Commissioner Javier Rivera Ríos, who could not be present.
Adams said the office supports the interest in the project to establish a system for the authorization of public service companies and adequate, efficient and safe transportation in Puerto Rico.
In addition, he argued that the commissioner is in the best disposition to collaborate with PSC in the evaluation and creation of an appropriate insurance coverage program for each type of commercial transportation or load-hauling license to safeguard the maximum safety of users of these services, public road safety and the general public’s well-being.
Representatives of the liquefied gas industry raised the complaint that they learned about the bill only two days earlier and questioned the urgency to approve it. To this argument, Sen. Laureano responded that the process has not been rushed, as several public hearings have already been held.
Attorney Luis Joel Feliciano, of Light Gas Corp., was opposed to the bill because, in his opinion, it would have dire consequences for current permit holders and public safety.
Manuel Fernández, of Empire Gas, said that, as written, the legislation would allow a company from anywhere in the world to immediately go to a regional director with a check or document and set up a $200 million liquefied gas terminal that would completely disrupt the gas industry.
“That is why having a clear and definitive definition…of [obtaining] permits for private transportation networks such as Uber, which I believe would be absurd to subject them to edicts, economic study and hearings or each driver,” he said.
Feliciano stressed that his industry is not only regulated by the commission, but also by the Consumer Affairs Department (DACO by its Spanish acronym) as well as federal agencies.
In previous hearings, representatives from the public transportation sector expressed their opposition to the bill, while the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., the Transportation and Public Works Department (DTOP by its Spanish initials), the PSC, and the Health Department endorsed it.