July 24, 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.

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Former Myrtle Beach bus director sues, claiming abuse

Image: Coast RTA

Image: Coast RTA

The former director of a Myrtle Beach-area bus system is suing his old agency and other government officials, claiming he was wrongfully terminated.

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reports that former head of the Coast Regional Transportation Authority Myers Rollins, Jr., filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Waccamaw Regional Transit Authority, which operates the CRTA, along with some South Carolina Department of Transportation and local officials.

Rollins is seeking $5 million, saying he was abused and humiliated before he was fired in April. He wants to be reinstated at his old job with back pay and benefits, as well as $5 million in total damages. The lawsuit claims Rollins had nine years with excellent job reviews before he was fired.

The lawsuit lists Coast RTA, SCDOT, Horry County Councilman and Coast RTA board member Gary Loftus, Horry Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, Coast RTA board chairman Bernie Silverman, Coast RTA board member Katherine D’Angelo, Interim General Manager Julie Norton-Dew, and SCDOT officials Doug Frate and Hart Baker.

Rollins began clashing with county officials and SCDOT after a failed $1 million grant to build 60 new bus shelters in the county. SCDOT canceled the grant last year, citing a lack of progress, and demanded that Coast RTA reimburse it $324,000 for expenses that had already been made.

Rollins claimed Loftus and other board members consistently worked to undermine his office.

Coast RTA issued a statement Tuesday saying it has not had time to review the lawsuit.

BMW supplier closing its doors, laying off 150

A plant in Spartanburg County that supplies BMW is permanently closing its doors, affecting 150 employees.

Officials with Faurecia Emission Control Technologies said the company will close its plant on New Cut Road by December as the French company restructures its operations. Faurecia has another plant in Fountain Inn that will remain open, according to a company spokesman.

The plants make exhaust systems for BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen plants across North America. The Spartanburg County plant is a fairly new operation that only opened its doors in 2010.

The company says it will try to relocate as many of the 150 employees as possible. It will work with state and local officials to help the remaining employees find other jobs.

Texting while driving ban heads to governor

Rep. Don Bowen (R-Anderson)

Rep. Don Bowen, R-Anderson

South Carolina lawmakers have voted to ban texting while driving, likely ending a four-year fight in the Statehouse.

Both the state House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a compromise measure Wednesday afternoon that makes it illegal to send, read, or compose text messages while driving. The Senate voted 44-2, while the House voted 94-2 in favor of the bill.

South Carolina is currently one of seven states without any kind of ban on cell phone use behind the wheel.

“Texting is the new driving while under the influence of alcohol.” State Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, said. “It is overtaking the rate of wreck incidents where alcohol used to be the problem… Folks texting while driving causes inattention and impaired ability to react in time.”

Under the proposed law, offenders will receive a $25 fine, but no penalty points on their license. The fine could go up to $50 for repeated violations. A driver could still text if their vehicle is parked or completely stopped at a traffic light or stop sign. The bill still allows drivers to talk on their phone and use hands-free devices to communicate so long as it does not involve texting.

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Governor signs law forcing Port Royal sale

South Carolina ports officials have one year to sell a former terminal that has been vacant for nearly a decade.

If they do not, the site will sell at auction to the highest bidder.

That’s the order of new legislation that Gov. Nikki Haley has signed into law. The measure, which cleared the state legislature last week, orders the sale of the Port Royal property near Beaufort. Then-Governor Mark Sanford and the state legislature voted to close the Port Royal Terminal in 2004. Three deals to redevelop the property have fallen through since that time.

Town of Port Royal leaders have previously said they are frustrated that the 317-acre waterfront property is becoming increasingly dilapidated. The General Assembly originally set a 2009 deadline to sell the property.

The new law requires the State Ports Authority to sell the land by the end of June 2015. If a buyer cannot be found by then, the property must be turned over to the state Department of Administration to be auctioned to the highest bidder, so long as the bid is worth 80 percent or more of the property’s appraised value. An appraisal last year valued the land at $22.5 million.

The legislation tries to make it slightly easier for the Ports Authority to sell the property. It would eliminate a requirement that the Ports Authority sell the land as a single parcel and would also no longer require the property to be sold at “fair market value.”

The Ports Authority has not commented on the new law, other than to say it will continue its efforts to find a buyer.