Uber has new chance to get state on board

Uber’s ride-hailing service uses a smartphone app to connect and freelance drivers

Uber is hopeful that a statewide deal regulating the ride-hailing business in South Carolina can be worked out by Thursday, as the General Assembly returns for a three-day session.

The regular legislative session ended June 4, when the House voted down the Senate’s version of the so-called Uber bill.

The proposed legislation is one of the pieces of unfinished business that’s up for discussion this week.

Six lawmakers — three from each chamber — were appointed to a committee to sort out differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill to regulate “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft.

A meeting was held Monday, and lawmakers are expected to meet again Tuesday, when the special session begins.

One of the issues still undecided after Monday’s talks relates to whether drivers should have to disclose to automobile lenders that they work for a ride-hailing service. Lawmakers also have to agree on the extent of the background check drivers must go through and the amounts of insurance coverage.

Uber brought its app-based ride-hailing service to Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia and Greenville last summer, and it has since expanded to the Hilton Head market.

The state has been struggling with how to regulate the up-and-coming industry since January, when the S.C. Public Service Commission halted Uber’s operations. The regulatory panel changed its mind two weeks later and granted San Francisco-based Uber a temporary license through June 30, with the expectation that legislators would resolve the issue.

Uber spokeswoman Kaitlin Durkosh said in an email Monday that the company is “confident a uniform set of rules for ride sharing — an innovative new transportation alternative — will be sent to Governor Haley for her signature this week.”

She declined to comment on what Uber’s plans are if the legislation doesn’t pass.

Dukes Scott, executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff, said his agency has not held any talks with Uber as to what would happen next.

A legislative official was optimistic that a bill would get through.

Charleston already passed its own regulations for ride-hailing services a couple of months ago. The bulk of that ordinance already is being enforced, said Tony Elder, deputy chief for the Charleston Police Department. The exception is a requirement that drivers and Uber obtain business licenses, which will be enforced July 1.

One difficult aspect of the ordinance to enforce so far has been getting Uber drivers to display on their vehicles that they’re working for the service, Elder said.

The state lawmakers on the Uber bill committee are: Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston and Rep. Mike Forrester, R-Spartanburg.

Reach Allison Prang at 937-5705 or on Twitter @AllisonPrang.