Civic News
Municipal government / Transportation

PSC sets Uber settlement hearing, legislation likely

The latest chapter in a long-running regulatory battle.

Uber drivers in Annapolis will likely be checking their mirrors. (Photo by Flickr user Joakim Formo, used under a Creative Commons license)

The long-running regulatory dispute between the state of Maryland and ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft is set for another surge in the coming weeks.
The first flare-up is likely to come at a Baltimore hearing scheduled for Dec. 19. That’s when regulators from the Maryland Public Service Commission will hear a settlement proposal offered by Uber late last month.
Under the settlement offer, which only pertains to luxury services UberBLACK and UberSUV, the company would drop an appeal of the PSC’s decision to regulate Uber and other app-based ridesharing services as common carriers, just like taxicabs. Uber would also provide a list of drivers to the PSC, and apply for a permit. In return, Uber wants the PSC to regulate it as a “broker,” and approve surge pricing.

If the current arrangement stands, said State Sen. Bill Ferguson, it’s 'very, very likely' that Uber and Lyft will no longer operate in Maryland.

The hearing will take place at 10 a.m. in the Commission’s 16th-floor hearing room in William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St. The PSC asked that written testimony supporting the settlement be submitted by Tuesday, Dec. 9. Reply testimony is due Dec. 16.
The PSC ruled that the ridesharing services should be regulated as common carriers in August, bringing Maryland into the nationwide debate about whether the company is just a rideshare service that connects drivers with riders or a taxicab company that is flaunting regulations. The Land of Pleasant Living became the first state to classify the app-based services in with taxis.
Uber and its main competitor Lyft, which both currently operate in Baltimore, vigorously opposed the PSC’s ruling. In addition to Uber’s settlement offer, the two companies may once again attempt to resurrect a legislative effort to work around the regulations. 

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While previewing the 2015 legislative session at a Nov. 25 meeting of the Canton Community Association (CCA), State Sen. Bill Ferguson said he will look to re-introduce legislation that would take the companies out of common carrier status.
“We’ll be putting forth a bill again that tries to give the PSC some more flexibility in its regulatory scheme so that it doesn’t have to force-place Uber and Lyft and regulate them the exact same way as taxicabs,” Ferguson, who represents the 46th District in southeast Baltimore, told the CCA.
In 2014, Ferguson was the Senate sponsor of a bill that would have create a new regulatory category for the rideshare apps called Transportation Network Services.
If the current arrangement stands, Ferguson said it’s “very, very likely” that Uber and Lyft would no longer operate in Maryland. 
“I believe that this would be hugely detrimental to consumers,” Ferguson said. “We’ve already seen the taxicabs say that they don’t want to raise fares because of competition from Uber and Lyft. I think that’s proof that consumers are better served when there’s competition in the marketplace that is fairly regulated.”
News of Uber’s settlement offer came after Ferguson’s public statements at the CCA meeting. Contacted by Techincal.ly Baltimore last week, Ferguson’s chief of staff said the state senator remains likely to bring legislation since the settlement only addresses Uber’s luxury services.

Companies: Lyft / Maryland Public Service Commission / Uber
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