Uber drivers win temporary green light

Uber has been operating in Charleston and several other South Carolina markets since July.

The Public Service Commission lifted its statewide Uber ban Thursday, allowing the ride-hailing service to operate legally in South Carolina while lawmakers sort out how to regulate the business.

The panel met Thursday and granted Uber’s joint request with Checker Yellow Cab Co. to give the app-based transportation business a license to pick up passengers through June, until the end of the legislative session.

A bill was filed in the S.C. House last week that would create new rules for Uber and similar transportation companies. That legislation would likely “make moot the current proceedings” of the commission, according to the companies’ request.

If the bill dies, Uber’s license will expire, and the PSC proceedings will resume.

Uber said it was pleased with the recent developments, including the licensing decision.

“While this is a temporary solution, we’re encouraged by the recent legislation introduced in the General Assembly, and look forward to creating a permanent home for Uber in South Carolina,” according to a written statement Thursday.

Dukes Scott, executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff, said his agency supported giving Uber a temporary pass. It was in the public’s best interest, he said.

“It gives the people an opportunity to utilize the service, and at the same time it is a limited certificate so it does provide opportunities to take other avenues in the future,” Scott said.

Columbia-based Checker Yellow has been mostly opposed to Uber, but it said it sided with the rival service in this instance because it wants to focus on a legislative solution.

The local limousine operator Going Coastal, another Uber opponent in the case, supported Checker’s position. Clayton Dennard, a spokesman for Going Coastal, said he doesn’t expect the temporary license to change anything because Uber has been operating in Charleston and three other South Carolina cities for nearly seven months, even after the ban went into effect earlier this month.

“It doesn’t change the interpretation of the law or say that they meet it,” Dennard said. “We’re just putting our faith in the state legislators … to let all taxis, limos and companies like Uber to operate equally in the best interest of the public.”

Taft Navarro, a local Uber driver who was fined for operating at Charleston International Airport, said the commission’s decision was a positive step.

“Most of the leaders in South Carolina and the municipalities realize ride-sharing is here to stay, and I think they understand this is what the consumer wants,” he said.

Navarro also wondered how Charleston International “is going to handle this now that Uber has a temporary permit” from the state.

The ride service has not been able to operate legally at the airport without special authorization from the Charleston County Aviation Authority. Charlene Gunnells, spokeswoman for the airport, said the authority’s attorneys had not reviewed the Public Service Commission’s decision Thursday.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906.