Uber measure clears Senate, awaits vote in S.C. House

San Francisco-based Uber began operating in South Carolina last summer.

The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday allowing Uber and other ride-hailing services to operate in South Carolina, but the issue hasn’t quite reached the end of the road.

The House must take a vote before 5 p.m. on Thursday that would either send the bill to the governor’s desk or set up a committee from both chambers to finalize the terms. In the latter instance, lawmakers would return the week of June 16 for a final vote.

Otherwise, the bill will die, leaving Uber’s South Carolina operations in limbo until the next legislative session in January, said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston.

“I would hope they would stay in the state. ... I want to make sure Uber stays in our state,” Grooms said Wednesday.

The bill requires “transportation network companies” like Uber to obtain a permit from the Office of Regulatory Staff to operate in South Carolina.

Uber expanded its app-based service to Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia and Greenville last summer.

The state has been wrestling with how to regulate the company since January, when the S.C. Public Service Commission issued a cease-and-desist order halting its operations.

Following criticism from Gov. Nikki Haley and legislators from both parties, the regulatory panel reversed course two weeks later and granted the company a temporary license through June 30, with the expectation that legislators would resolve the issue.

Grooms said the Public Service Commission could reinstate its ban if nothing passes. Thursday is the last day of the regular legislative session.

A bill that allows Uber to operate cleared the House in March. Haley pressed senators to follow suit last week.

In a letter, she described Uber as an “innovative, cutting-edge” company.

She also said the state risked losing the San Francisco-based firm’s ride-sharing services entirely if the General Assembly didn’t act.

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“We cannot allow this to happen to us. Uber’s departure from South Carolina will be a step backwards for our state, depriving our citizens of safe, reliable transportation and hundreds of jobs,” Haley wrote in the letter, provided to the Associated Press.

If passed and signed into law, a statewide bill would supersede an ordinance the city of Charleston passed but has not yet enforced to regulate companies like Uber.

About 20 other states that have enacted legislation allowing ride sharing.

Uber enables users to request a ride through a smartphone app, which connects them to a nearby freelance driver. All transactions are handled electronically and no cash is exchanged.

Taxicab operators have complained companies like Uber have an unfair advantage because they aren’t as regulated.

Cynthia Roldan and Allison Prang of The Post and Courier contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed.