COLUMBIA — Legislation aimed at helping people find their Uber ride passed the House on Tuesday, less than two weeks after the killing of a University of South Carolina senior who got in the wrong vehicle.
The bill requires drivers for Uber and other ride-booking companies to put an illuminated sign in their window, in hopes that could help connect riders to the correct drivers. It is named after 21-year-old Samantha Josephson, who was slain after leaving a Five Points bar about 1:30 a.m. March 29.
"What this bill seeks to do very plainly is increase the distance the rider can start the verification process," said Rep. Micah Caskey, R-West Columbia, a co-sponsor, adding "those little black stickers" in Uber drivers' windows aren't easily visible at night.
The 99-1 vote came despite pushback from Uber, which flew in executives last week to put brakes on the bill after the House voted unanimously to let it skip the committee process. The timing meets a critical deadline for advancing from one chamber to another, meaning it could still become law before the session ends next month — though Senate rules make it easy for opponents to block bills.
"We have some safety concerns about the legislation as currently written and hope to work collectively with the South Carolina Legislature to put safety first," said Evangeline George, a regional Uber spokeswoman.
Lighted ride-booking logos already exist, but Uber doesn't want the state to require its drivers to use them.
The company argues the lights could create a false sense of security for riders, especially since people wanting to do harm can buy fraudulent versions online. Uber instead is pushing for people to check information already sent through the app, including the license plate number and the driver's photo, and for riders to ask the driver "What's my name?" to ensure there's a match before getting in the vehicle.
That should still be done, said Rep. Seth Rose, the bill's sponsor.
The light is "an initial step that this may be your ride. It's not the end-all-be-all," said the Columbia Democrat, a USC graduate who lives near Five Points. "The issue at heart is we need better verification it might be your ride."
He also notes fraudulent lights won't come with Uber's color-matching technology.
Uber began rolling out its glowing Beacon more than two years ago. The color changes to whatever the rider chooses when confirming a pickup, according to the company’s website.
“Beacon takes the guesswork out of finding your riders. Stand out from the crowd, and light up the night," reads the site, in encouraging drivers to install the technology. "The device glows in a color your riders choose, so they’ll know exactly which car is yours, especially at night."
According to Uber, the color-pairing technology is available to drivers in more than a dozen cities across North America, but the company hasn't specified which.
Asked about the seemingly disparate messaging between what Uber touts online and its opposition to the bill, the company said the Beacon's meant to be an additional layer for getting in the right vehicle, not a replacement for the other steps — echoing a point made by the bill's sponsors.
"This bill is not to be a panacea. This is not going to fix all the problems in the world," Caskey said, adding that asking "What's my name?" remains one of the most important steps riders can take to protect themselves.
The lone no vote came from freshman Rep. Mandy Kimmons, R-Ridgeville, who agreed with arguments that the bill could lull riders into hopping into a vehicle with a light without checking the app.
Five ride-booking companies are authorized to operate in South Carolina. Uber has by far the most drivers, with 13,000 on its rolls as of last year. No. 2 Lyft had less than half that.
Separate legislation filed last Thursday would require those drivers to have license plates on the front of the vehicle, so riders can more easily check the plate number on the app with the vehicle pulling up. South Carolina is among 19 states that require only a rear license plate.
While in Aiken on Monday, University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides said the school will award a posthumous degree to Josephson, a New Jersey native who was set to attend law school at Drexel University in Philadelphia this fall.