Uber picks up unlikely ally as taxi dispute takes new turn

Two weeks ago, Uber was pushing state regulators to lift a ban on the ride-hailing service and reschedule a hearing to determine whether it should be given a license to operate in South Carolina.

Now that the hearing has been rescheduled, Uber said it no longer wants one.

The company and Columbia’s Checker Yellow Cab Co., an unlikely ally in this instance, submitted a joint letter Tuesday requesting that the Public Service Commission cancel the hearing. They also called for the state to give Uber a temporary license to operate until late June, when the legislative session ends.

The reason: A bill was filed in the S.C. House last week that would create a new set of rules for Uber and similar ride services. Uber and Checker told the commission the bill could “make moot the current proceedings.”

The PSC has been criticized by several major companies in Charleston’s technology industry as well as by state lawmakers and Gov. Nikki Haley for ordering the statewide ban earlier this month. The issue prompted state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, and Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, to co-sponsor the bill to accommodate Uber.

With the ban still in place, the commission quickly rescheduled a public hearing that had been canceled earlier. The hearing is still set for Feb. 23.

Uber and Checker said it doesn’t matter if the hearing takes place, because if the new bill passes, it could resolve all the questions and concerns the commission would be considering.

Dallas Ball, Checker’s legal representative in the case, said the company is siding with Uber in this instance because it needs to focus its energy on the pending bill.

“It seems like a better use of time to focus on the legislation than the Public Service Commission’s decision that could be rendered moot very quickly,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure the new rules are fair to all the taxi services.”

If the new law is not enacted during the legislative session, Uber and Checker said they would return to the commission and essentially pick up where they left off.

The PSC had not made a decision about the request for a temporary license as of Tuesday.

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