(Photo by Flickr user Adam Fagen, used under a Creative Commons license)
At the Maryland Public Service Commission in Baltimore on Thursday, an agreement was finalized between state regulators and Uber. Meanwhile, at the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, a bill was filed that effectively puts the company and the PSC at odds.
The separate moves serve as signposts for different roads that could be travelled in the coming weeks to resolve the ongoing impasse over how to regulate ridesharing in Maryland.
Ending months of back-and-forth, the PSC signed off on a settlement agreement with Uber that puts regulations in place on UberBLACK and and UberSUV, the company’s two services that feature licensed livery delivers. The settlement effectively means the company’s luxury car services will be regulated like other “non-taxicab-for-hire carriers,” meaning they will have to have passenger-for-hire licenses, and vehicles will be subject to PSC standards.
Uber takes its case to lawmakers. PSC presses forward with regulations.
The agreement states that Uber subsidiary Drinnen LLC will have to provide regulators with names of all of its drivers as well as “a schedule of its times, rates and charges, which may include maximum and minimum rates and surge pricing.” That information will be posted on the internet, the PSC states.
Such an agreement isn’t imminent when it comes to UberX, however.
The PSC is looking to regulate the ridesharing service like taxis, too. But the company is continuing to fight against the regulations on that front.
Instead of going along with regulations of UberX proposed by the PSC earlier this month, Uber is looking to a bill filed Thursday by State Sen. Bill Ferguson. SB 868 would specifically ridesharing services with their own regulations, such as standards for becoming a driver, conducting background checks and more.
The bill also seeks to unify oversight of the companies across the state. In areas where the PSC doesn’t have responsibility, that means regulatory responsibility would no longer fall onto individual jurisdictions like Annapolis, Montgomery County and others. Ferguson has said the bill is designed to answer an “ultimate policy question” about how the companies are regulated.
"We're hopeful that the state legislature will recognize that we need a uniform approach."
A similar bill failed in the General Assembly last year, but proponents believe the renewed focus on the regulations has created more urgency around the issue. Since last year, the PSC ruled that Uber is a “common carrier,” meaning it is subject to the very passenger-for-hire regulations that the company’s business model is designed to disrupt.
Along with the UberBLACK settlement, the PSC proposed regulations that would classify ridesharing apps like UberX as “Transportation Network Services.” But officials aren’t happy with what comes after the classification.
“It simply tries to force Uber into the same old taxi bucket,” said Uber Maryland spokesperson Taylor Bennett.
Uber officials say the proposal doesn’t take into account that Uber is a technology company made up of many part-time drivers using their personal vehicles. Additionally, Uber Maryland General Manager Shwetha Rajashekara argued that the company has “set the new standard” in areas like safety, quality and insurance.
“Our business model is different, so we need a different framework,” Rajashekara said of Ferguson’s bill.
The current lack of clarity around the regulations has created some confusion around the state. In Annapolis, city officials served Uber with a cease and desist order. When the company kept operating, City Manager Tom Andrews threatened to fine drivers.
Rajashekara said she’s received no reports of drivers being fined, and added that she met with the Annapolis City Council to quell concerns. But she said that jurisdictions across the state are “concerned with the uncertainty,” underscoring the need for lawmakers to step in.
“We’re hopeful that the state legislature will recognize that we need a uniform approach,” said Uber’s Bennett.
As far as bringing other ridesharing companies onboard in support of the bill, Bennett acknowledged Uber and Lyft share the same goals, but said they weren’t working together to support the legislation.
For their part, the PSC wants to keep moving forward with the proposed regulations no matter what’s happening in the General Assembly. A “rulemaking” hearing is scheduled for March 20.
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