June 22, 2015

Legislature Sends Uber Bill To Haley For Signing

Liz Segrist  /  SC Biz

Uber is one step closer to operating legally in South Carolina after a year of regulatory confusion surrounding the app-based transportation company's entree into several S.C. markets last summer. The S.C. Legislature approved Uber during a special legislative session last week. The House passed the bill 96 to 2 on Wednesday; the Senate passed it unanimously on Thursday.

The bill now awaits Gov. Nikki Haley's signature. Haley has said repeatedly that she supports Uber and wants transportation network companies to be allowed to operate legally in South Carolina.

"Uber is one of those cutting-edge companies we want in South Carolina," she said recently in Charleston.

The state has been trying to find a regulatory solution since Uber began offering rides in Charleston, Greenville, Columbia and Myrtle Beach last summer. It now also operates on Hilton Head Island. Proponents say that the state should be business-friendly toward the service and that tourists expect it when visiting the state. Opponents, including taxi and limo companies, say Uber has an unfair advantage with surge pricing and less regulation.

In January, the S.C. Public Service Commission sent a cease-and-desist order to Uber for operating without the necessary permits. Charleston-area tech CEOs and Gov. Nikki Haley responded by writing letters in support of the service and several legislators filed a bill that would allow Uber and similar companies to operate in the state and be regulated.

The commission reversed its decision and granted Uber a temporary license, which expires June 30.

While the state worked on its bill, Charleston City Council approved a Transportation Network Companies Ordinance in late April allowing Uber to operate within city limits, with some stipulations. The ordinance requires all commercial drivers to have commercial insurance, to obtain a business license and to undergo a background check.

If Haley signs the bill into law, it will override the Charleston ordinance.

The Charleston County Aviation Authority is also examining its ground transportation ordinance, including a proposal that would allow transportation network companies to operate at Charleston International Airport, according to spokeswoman Charlene Gunnells.

Uber and other transportation network operators are currently allowed to drop off passengers at the airport but not to pick them up. Violators have been fined.

Aviation authority officials have said in numerous board meetings that they were waiting for the state to decide whether to legalize and regulate these companies, including a Senate amendment that requires all such companies to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations and airport regulations.

"The Senate amendment specifically stipulates that the bill shall not pre-empt any federal regulation relating to the provisions of transportation services at FAA-regulated facilities like CHS," Gunnells said.

Highlights of the bill:

  • The bill requires transportation network companies to obtain a permit from the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff in order to operate in the state legally.
  • Drivers must have liability insurance and get their car inspected by a certified mechanic in S.C.
  • Drivers must undergo a criminal and sex offender background check and present a 10-year driving record.
  • Drivers can accept passengers only through their apps; they cannot give rides through a "street hail."
  • Drivers must display pricing and photos of themselves on their apps for users to see when they request a ride.
  • A transportation network company shall maintain a record of all services provided in South Carolina for a period of three years from the date service. Records will track fares charged, any complaints, address of deliveries, the time and pickup of the services and when drivers log into the digital network.
  • Violators of any requirements outlined will be fined up to $100 for a first violation, $500 for a second violation and $1,000 for a third or subsequent violations. Those funds will be used by the Office of Regulatory Staff for enforcement operations