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PSC Says It Can Regulate Uber

Uber/company art

The Maryland Public Service Commission has ruled that two services offered by the ride sharing app-based company Uber are subject to state regulation. At the same time it ordered commission staff to draft new rules for non-taxicab, for-hire companies.

The commission said Wednesday that Uber is a common carrier and must apply for a permit for its UberBLACK and UberSUV services, which offer rides in luxury vehicles similar to a sedan service, within 60 days. It directed commission staff to come up with rules to keep up with technology and companies like Uber in the next three months.

Uber argued that it was not a common carrier but a technology company that provides information about for hire sedan drivers to the public. The commission dismissed that claim, ruling that most businesses are integrating online tools and software for the convenience of customers and employees.

The ruling does not affect UberX and Lyft, services that involve privately owned vehicles. The commission is looking at those services in a separate case.

The ruling from the commission comes as Virginia officials announced an agreement with Uber and Lyft allowing the two companies to continue operating in that state.  The Washington Post reports Uber and Lyft were granted temporary authorization by the Va. Department of Motor Vehicles to offer services with conditions.  They are not allowed to hire drivers convicted of certain crimes; they must have a zero tolerance drug use policy and meet strict insurance requirements.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett accused the commission of taking choice and competition away from Maryland residents to protect taxi companies.  “While the people of Maryland and their elected leaders support innovation and choice, Maryland’s PSC is stuck in the days of the horse and buggy,” he said.  Bennett said the company would appeal the ruling.

Governor Martin O’Malley, in a statement, urged the commission and the general assembly to make sure laws and regulations keep up with technology and innovation.  “We shouldn’t try to limit a 21st century marketplace with 20th century regulations,” O’Malley said.

Uber is being sued by Veolia Transportation in Baltimore – operators of Yellow and Checkered Cab – and Barwood Taxi in Montgomery County for operating illegally.  Dwight Kines, a vice president with Veiola, said that the lawsuit will move forward despite the commission’s ruling.  Veolia and Barwood are seeking monetary damages and they want Uber to stop operating until the company complies with common carrier regulations.