Public Utility Commission Hits Uber with $11.4M Penalty

A snapshot of requesting a ride through the Uber app. Photo courtesy of Uber.
A snapshot of requesting a ride through the Uber app. Photo courtesy of Uber.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) finalized penalties against Uber Technologies Inc. and its Pennsylvania subsidiaries (collectively, Uber) for operating without Commission authority from February 2014 to August 2014.

The penalty is also for failure to respond to discovery requests, resolving a formal complaint filed by the PUC’s independent Bureau of Investigation of Enforcement.

The Commission voted 3-2 to adopt a Joint Motion by Chairman Gladys M. Brown and Commissioner John F. Coleman Jr. that directs Uber to pay a civil penalty of $11,364,736, reducing a recommended fine by presiding PUC Administrative Law Judges.

“We find that the recommended fine should be reduced to $11,364,736 for two reasons,” said Commissioner Coleman in the Joint Motion. “One, Uber has modified its internal practices to comply with the Commission-imposed conditions on its current authority. Two, Uber and its affiliates have not demonstrated any significant compliance problems since the grant of emergency temporary and later experimental authority. We find that a civil penalty of this size is necessary to deter Uber and other members of this industry from future violations of the Public Utility Code and the laws of this Commonwealth.”

Commissioners Robert F. Powelson and Pamela A. Witmer dissented and issued statements regarding the amount and calculation of the civil penalty.

“I believe the recommended civil penalty is egregious, especially when compared to other cases in which the Commission has assessed substantial civil penalties for violations of the [Public Utility] Code,” said Commissioner Witmer. “Several Commission cases wherein we assessed substantial civil penalties involved incidents of serious bodily injury, fatalities, significant property damage, and/or patterns of unsafe businesses practices that jeopardized public safety. I think these prior cases should instruct the civil penalty assessed in the instant case and guide us to a more measured and reasonable outcome.”

“Uber’s operations as a motor carrier without a license constitute a serious violation of the Public Utility Code that warrants a substantial civil penalty,” said Commissioner Powelson. However, when determining the penalty amount, the Commission cannot overlook the existence of several mitigating factors in this case, such as the minimal actual harm that resulted from Uber’s operations, as well as Uber’s current compliance with PUC orders and continuing willingness to meet Commission directives.”

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