Uber has lost a battle in South Carolina, but the war is still very much undecided.
Last week, the state Public Service Commission issued a cease and desist order for the controversial ride-sharing service after a meeting with the Office of Regulatory Staff.
Some state officials and many in the taxi industry have argued that Uber operates as a taxi business while skirting strenuous — and costly — regulations imposed on other taxi companies.
Uber says it performs background checks on its drivers and provides them with backup insurance in case any accidents on the job exceed the drivers’ personal insurance coverage. Customers rate drivers to help ensure that Uber employees provide consistently optimal service.
But licensed South Carolina taxi companies must undergo vehicle inspections and pay licensing fees, among other requirements dodged by Uber, which maintains that it is not a taxi service.
Surprisingly, the cease and desist order came even as public hearings continue across South Carolina on how Uber’s service might be brought more closely in line with state and local law. The Charleston Traffic and Transportation Safety Committee held a public forum on the issue earlier this month.
It’s an unnecessarily heavy-handed response from the PSC, particularly considering that there appear to have been no major safety incidents reported involving Uber in South Carolina.
Uber drivers have drawn a handful of complaints around the country, but there is little evidence thus far that they are any more dangerous than traditional taxis. In fact, many customers feel that Uber is a safer — and higher quality — service than its competitors.
And South Carolina — particularly under the administration of Gov. Nikki Haley — has fought hard to bring in new jobs and businesses. The state should applaud companies like Uber that provide useful, popular services as well as gainful employment for South Carolinians.
Mrs. Haley released a statement last Friday calling the PSC decision “extremely disappointing” and asking the Legislature to “put forth a framework that finds a permanent home for this option throughout the state.”
Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, responded by beginning work on a bipartisan bill to legalize Uber and other ride-sharing services in South Carolina. The bill could be ready for filing as early as next week, he said in a Facebook post on the matter.
Regulations on the taxi industry were rightly implemented in the name of public safety. But if those regulations are less effective at protecting customers than the self-policing power of social media ratings and other frontier-pushing tools, perhaps it’s time they were reconsidered.
In the meantime, Uber has demonstrated willingness to cooperate with state regulatory agencies to ensure that they are operating lawfully.
The state should respond by allowing Uber to stay on the streets.