Unified Taxi Workers Alliance Win Ruling Over Philadelphia Parking Authority at PA Supreme Court
Todd Wolfson | 02.26.2009
On Friday February 20th, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in the case of the Taxi Workers Alliance et al vs. The Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA). In a 5-2 decision, the court ruled in favor of the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance (UTWA) giving the Commonwealth Court jurisdiction over PPA and offering taxi drivers, as well as cab and dispatch companies, a place to seek redress in regards to PPA regulations. Read more at Media Mobilizing Project's new community blog.
In specific, the core of the ruling was that the PPA was a state agency and was ignoring procedures that state agencies must follow in administrative proceeding. This decision offers individuals and organizations in the taxi and limo industry a set of procedures and an oversight body where grievances can be brought forth around issues such as fines, GPS machines, credit cards and other industry regulations.
Michael Henry, Legal Counsel for the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance explained that it is a good thing for proposed PPA "regulations to be reviewed by an independent agency, as the law requires, because it ensures that the regulations that are finally adopted are clear and reasonable and do not exceed the statutory authority given to the PPA." He went on that this will, "prevent the PPA from adopting rules that impose undue and unnecessary economic burdens on taxicab owners and drivers."
Members of the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance celebrated the victory as an important step in winning back simple workers rights in the industry. Ronald Blount, the President of the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance and the principle claimant in the case, discussed why this is a landmark decision for drivers. Mr Blount explained, "the PPA kept jumping the fence between a local and State agency acting as a rogue body with no oversight." He went on "They were able to raise a fine in one day, reduce it the next, and raise it again the following day... they issued Executive orders over night without a public hearing and the court system for taxi violations is unconstitutional in that they would hold a hearing with no witness present and still find the driver guilty."
Based on the supreme court decision, the PPA must work with the State's other taxi regulator, the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Furthermore, the PPA must now follow the Pennsylvania Document Law, which states that any new rule or regulation must first be presented to the Independent Regulatory Review Commision (IRRC). Through the IRCC, all parties can submit comments and be present for a public hearing. This is a dramatic change from PPA's previous operations where there was no review process. The IRRC can either approve the regulation or dismiss it. If IRRC passes it , the regulation then moves to the Attorney General Office to see if it is legal regarding Pennsylvania law. Again all parties voices are heard.
Taxi drivers in Philadelphia believe that forcing the PPA to operate in tandem with the PUC will dramatically alter how the regulatory body operates. Currently the highest fine the PUC charges drivers is around $200. On the other hand, the PPA fines drivers in excess of $1500 for a single violation. Moving forward drivers believe this discrepancy will have to be rectified and most likely drivers fines in Philadelphia will drop precipitously. Putting the ruling in perspective, John Hough, UTWA's spokesperson explained that this will have a dramatic effect on the lives of drivers. In this moment of economic crisis "drivers are struggling to put food on the table." He went on, "the exorbitant PPA fines, which until now could not be challenged, were taking food off the tables of drivers and their families and putting that hard earned money in the bloated account of the PPA, leading to over 20 employees at the PPA making salaries over $100,000." Mr Hough concluded, "We look forward to working with the IRCC, PUC and PPA to develop a fines structure that matches the real conditions of drivers across this city and region."