The city of Charleston reaffirmed its intention to police UberX drivers when it issued a public announcement Tuesday about the ride-sharing app and the range of laws its drivers could violate by offering the service in Charleston.
The announcement comes on the heels of a meeting last week at the Charleston Police Department, where owners of local taxi companies discussed their concerns about UberX with city officials and a department officer.
It was decided at the meeting that police would double down on enforcement of local laws regarding taxi services with undercover police stings of drivers using the UberX app. The aim is to discourage drivers from signing up to drive for the app-based car service that allows car owners to transport passengers in their personal vehicles for fares.
Drivers who offer the UberX service take the risk of violating a range of local and state laws, including those that require transportation companies to undergo specific licensing and verification processes. Uber argues that the vetting process should be left to the company, and that its drivers are held accountable by a passenger-rating feature on the app.
Local drivers who choose to partner with UberX could face a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or fines of up to $1,097, according to the latest estimate provided by the city.
"These requirements are for the safety of the consumer," the city said in the statement. "The new ride-share companies operating in the area do not have licenses from the state of South Carolina and the city of Charleston to operate here."
The statement also emphasized that police aimed to gain "voluntary compliance before taking enforcement action."
Uber has since promised to pay any of its drivers' fines or legal fees if they're issued citations.
Many locals also have come to the defense of local UberX drivers, including state Rep. Peter McCoy of Charleston and local attorney David Aylor.
McCoy said he hoped to work with other state lawmakers in the next legislative session to determine how to accommodate the ride-sharing app. He also said he did not agree with the city's recent uptick of regulatory action on new businesses such as late-night bars.
"It's putting too many regulations on businesses, and we need to be promoting businesses and jobs instead of enforcing regulations that we have," McCoy said.
Aylor said he would represent UberX drivers who are cited for the violations free of charge because he believes the app is a positive force for transportation in the area.
"Personally, I have used Uber several times in places across the country and I felt like it was an efficient method for providing safe transportation," Aylor said.
He added that, given his experience representing defendants in DUI cases, he believes an added car service that is popular with consumers could help reduce instances of drunken driving in the Lowcountry.
"I think that any place that you don't have mass transit that is used by locals or tourists, you're going to have higher rates of DUIs, and I think sometimes the lack of cabs available, simply because the resources are what they are, drivers make bad decisions and get behind the wheel when they've had too much to drink," he said. "If you provide the citizens more options, I think it could assist in that."
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail