City solicits feedback about Uber rules

Uber drivers began offering the app-based ride service in Charleston last summer.

The community will have its first chance this week to sound off on the city of Charleston's plans to regulate Uber.

The Traffic and Transportation Committee is holding a public forum in City Hall Council Chambers on Tuesday at 3 p.m. to gather feedback about its proposal to create a set of rules for Uber and similar "transportation network companies" in case any other app-based ride services launch in Charleston.

City attorney Janie Borden and Police Chief Greg Mullen are drafting the ordinance, and have said the main priority is to establish a system that would allow authorities to access records of drivers' background checks and the companies' insurance policies.

Borden and Mullen have said Uber's model of scheduling rides and fares ahead of time resembles a limousine service more than a taxi, and the proposed rules will reflect that distinction.

As the first opportunity for the public to weigh in on the issue, the hearing will likely draw several taxi drivers and transportation company owners.

Jerry Crosby, vice president of Yellow Cab of Charleston, said many taxi companies oppose creating a new set of rules for Uber, and question how the companies' "surge pricing" practice will be handled.

Others have questioned whether the ordinance would change how Uber operates. James Jones, president of Charleston Cab Co., in a written letter sent to the committee chairman, City Councilman Bill Moody, on Dec. 18, called the committee "naive" for trying to regulate Uber.

"You can pass all the ordinances you want, but Uber's 5 year track record suggests that they will simply ignore you, just like they have ignored every other jurisdiction that has attempted to regulate them," Jones says in the letter.

The city forum comes two weeks ahead of the state Public Service Commission's hearing on whether it will bring Uber under its jurisdiction. Although local officials have said they have waited for the state's direction on how to handle the issue, the decision made at the PSC meeting Jan. 26 will neither ban nor approve Uber's operations across the state.

Each municipality has the right to regulate transportation firms operating within city limits, said Dukes Scott, executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff, a state agency that makes recommendations to the commission.

Scott said the state hearing is a measure to determine whether Uber is going to be state-regulated at all, and if so, whether it will be treated like a taxi or a separate type of service. But ultimately, those regulations will only apply to areas beyond city limits.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail