The ride-sharing app uberX hasn't been launched in South Carolina yet, but the state is already considering how to regulate it.
Uber, the San Francisco-based tech company that connects passengers to freelance drivers around the world with the app uberX, has not officially confirmed its plans to launch the car-paging service in South Carolina. However, the company has been recruiting online for driver positions in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Greenville.
Last week, the company hosted a meeting in Columbia with potential drivers, according to a state document. Comments reportedly made by Uber officials during the meeting prompted the state Office of Regulatory Staff to submit a petition to the Public Service Commission on Tuesday, according to Dukes Scott, executive director of the office.
The petition requests that the commission conduct a formal hearing with Uber officials as soon as possible and then decide whether the app-based transportation services would be regulated like any other taxi company.
The office often makes recommendations to the commission, the regulatory agency for public utilities and transportation.
The state agency also released a public advisory Tuesday to notify potential users of Uber about the risks the office says are associated with the service.
Uber did not return requests for comment Tuesday.
George Parker, who is on the Office of Regulatory Staff, reportedly attended the meeting Uber hosted in Columbia last week and provided details about it in the petition documents.
Uber officials announced at the meeting that the uberX app would be launched in Columbia in two to three weeks, Parker said in the document, which the office provided to The Post and Courier.
He also reported that the Uber official leading the discussion instructed the group of potential drivers to "refrain from discussing their association with Uber with their personal insurance company."
The Uber official also told the group, according to Parker's testimony, that Uber would pay fines if drivers were cited for violating the state law that requires passenger transportation businesses to be certified by the Public Service Commission.
The state-required certification process involves inspecting all the vehicles in a taxi service's fleet, conducting thorough background checks on all its drivers and keeping commercial auto insurance on file for all the vehicles.
Uber has not applied for the certificates, according to the petition documents. Instead, the company says on its website that it vets each of its partner-drivers to ensure he or she does not have a criminal record, is at least 21 years old, has auto insurance and drives a four-door car in "excellent condition" that is no older than 2005.
Since the company "partners" with drivers who use their own vehicles and personal auto insurance, Uber claims it is not a "transportation carrier," but rather a company that "offers information and a method to obtain such third party transportation services," according to the terms and conditions on its Web site.
But state officials and many other legislators across the country have been left scratching their heads on how to define the company, and what that would mean in the case of a car accident.
"Using ride-sharing companies or drivers who operate without a PSC certificate may leave customers and drivers vulnerable to potential gaps in insurance coverage," the state agency said in the advisory statement.
The company and others like it have argued in states such as California that trying to regulate ride-sharing apps like a traditional taxi service would stifle innovation, but many states are moving forward with regulations.
Colorado passed a law earlier this month that puts ride-sharing apps under the regulation of the Public Utilities Commission. It addresses the insurance coverage gap and the issue of stricter background checks, but the law does not treat the service like a traditional taxi company, according to the Denver Post.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail
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