September 18, 2014

Ride-sharing service considers SC expansion, but regulators concerned

UberA ride-sharing application that’s gaining popularity nationwide could soon expand into South Carolina. But state officials are moving to act before it arrives.

The ride-sharing app uberX allows its users to connect with freelance drivers who can shuttle them around town. The Charleston Post & Courier newspaper reported Wednesday that the California-based company is recruiting drivers in the Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, and Myrtle Beach areas. Uber began operating in San Francisco

Despite meeting with interested drivers last week, the company is still mum on any expansion into South Carolina. “We are excited about the potential opportunity to connect riders and drivers in Charleston,” spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh said in a statement. “While there is no standard timeline we follow, we do often find that both riders and drivers in cities are looking for increased choice and economic opportunities.”

But state regulators are concerned that the ride-sharing service may not meet the same standards required of traditional taxi drivers. The Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS), which is tasked with representing the public on utility issues, sent a letter to the SC Public Service Commission on Tuesday asking that the commission determine whether ride-sharing services like uberX should be regulated as taxis.

“Unless these drivers and ridesharing companies that employ them have gone through the required regulatory process mandated by state law, the proper authority, insurance, criminal background check, or vehicle safety inspection may not be in place,” the ORS letter notes. “This situation can put both the passenger and driver at risk.”

Uber’s website states its drivers must be at least 21 years old, pass a criminal background check, carry auto insurance, and drive a four-door car in “excellent” condition that was manufactured since 2005.

If the Public Service Commission deems uberX a taxi-fleet service, drivers would need to undergo state certification before they could work.  The company claims since it only “partners” with drivers who use their own vehicles and personal auto insurance, making it a third party information provider and not a taxi service.

The issue goes beyond driver training, however. State regulations are also specific on the taxi’s required condition and require the driver to keep a “manifest” of passengers. Most cities also have set rates that taxi drivers can charge passengers on a per-mile basis.

Jay Harper filed this report