Gov. Nikki Haley is criticizing state regulators who ordered the company that runs the ride-sharing app Uber to cease and desist their South Carolina operations. Meanwhile, the company itself launched a social media effort to get the public on its side.
In a letter to the Public Service Commission on Friday, Haley called the commission’s actions “extremely disappointing” and “government interference in the private sector.”
“As a state that stands for innovation and welcomes technology, I urge the PSC to resolve this matter immediately,” the governor stated. “There should be no disruption to our residents’ jobs and no roadblocks that stand in the way of their access to safe methods of transportation.”
It was safety concerns that indirectly led the commission to file the order, informing Reiser, LLC (the Uber subsidiary which make the app) that it needed to obtain the necessary certification required of all taxi and limo companies before it could operate in South Carolina. Uber has insisted it is not a taxi service, it merely connects those needing a ride with individual drivers willing to offer one. But the company has applied for the certificate of public convenience and necessity, and the commission was scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter on January 26.
Office of Regulatory Staff executive director C. Dukes Scott said complications arose in those proceedings after potential competitor Checker Yellow Cab sought information from Uber as part of the discovery process. Uber refused to turn over the information and Checker Yellow filed a motion to compel, Scott said. The commission delayed the hearing and issued the order until an ORS hearing officer could rule on the motion, he added.
Cab groups have strongly opposed Uber’s presence across the country, saying the company is able to undercut them by not following the same strict insurance, inspection, and price requirements as the heavily-regulated taxi industry.
In a letter to Uber users on Friday, the company’s general managers Billy Guernier and Michael Black pledged to “continue our commitment to providing South Carolinians with access to safe, affordable and reliable rides.” While the two did not explicitly say the company would continue offering rides, the UberX app still shows available drivers in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, and Myrtle Beach.
Meanwhile, a state legislator has said he will file legislation in the South Carolina House that would allow Uber to operate in South Carolina. State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, said he had used the app many times himself. “Uber has also become a key component of maintaining an internationally competitive tourism and hospitality industry, one of the top job creators in the state of South Carolina,” he said in a statement.
Scott said state law is vague about whether Uber would even need the certificate to operate if it stayed inside city limits. The same South Carolina law that requires all commercial “motor vehicle carriers” to apply for the certificate also creates an exception if the driver stays “within the limits of a municipality in this state.”
He said ORS has not yet enforced any violations by drivers for operating without a certificate. He said that is partly due to the realities of tracking down unmarked cars with a very limited staff of inspectors and also because the agency does not want any ticketed violations to end up in court until after the Public Service Commission determines the company’s fate.
“We want the Public Service Commission, who are the experts… to make a decision as to whether or not this is a motor carrier operation,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Rather than arguing that before a magistrate who does not have the background that our commissioners have in this area.”