The ridesharing smartphone app Uber expanded its uberX services into Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, and Myrtle Beach on Thursday. The San Francisco-based company began operating in 2009 and has been available for several years in larger cities, including Charlotte and Atlanta.
The uberX app allows a person to use their phone to request and pay for a ride from a freelance driver who works for the company (See an explanation in company’s YouTube video).
Uber’s GM for the region Billy Guernier said the company had noticed demand for its services in South Carolina, even though it was not offering the service in the Palmetto State. “We’ve seen tremendous demand in all these markets even before we entered,” he said. “We’ve seen users opening the application, users signing up for Uber. So we decided we should bring Uber to as many markets as we could.”
He said hundreds of drivers across the state have also signed up to offer their part-time services.
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 last month asking it to determine whether ride-sharing services like uberX should be regulated as taxis. The commission will hold a hearing on August 26.
“There’s an issue about fairness,” ORS executive director C. Dukes Scott told South Carolina Radio Network. “I mean, if the taxis have to pay the fees and the taxis have to follow the regulations, then should Uber? That’s the question we’re asking the Public Service Commission.”
Scott said he doesn’t necessarily want new regulations, but does want clarification on whether or not Uber already falls under the state’s definition of “taxi.” He was concerned that the cars don’t have to undergo the safety inspections required of taxi companies and often rely on the individual driver’s own insurance.
But Uber says it is not a taxi service — it only matches customers with potential independent freelance drivers. “Uber itself, we make the technology,” Guernier said. “But we don’t own the cars and we don’t employ the drivers. Just like Expedia isn’t an airline company, we’re not a taxi company.”
The city of Charleston told WCSC-TV that it sent a letter to Uber explaining that a chauffeur’s license is required in Charleston. Charleston’s legal department says Uber has not responded, and the city will cite any unlicensed drivers it finds.