Uber is coming to Charleston, but it may not be legal

Published: Jul. 10, 2014 at 10:27 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 10, 2014 at 11:07 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC - A new ride-sharing application called Uber is coming to Charleston, but it may not be legal.

Both South Carolina and the City of Charleston are both deciding how the service fits into the city and state's laws.

After the application is downloaded, users put in personal information and payment information and can then request a ride from a driver and monitor their driver's progress.

The state's Office of Regulatory Staff requires companies and drivers to have a certificate showing they've been inspected, had a criminal background check, and are insured.

While Uber provides insurance and requires a background check, it doesn't require a license.

The ORS warns against ride-sharing applications saying without proper certification, they may not be safe.

The City of Charleston's legal department will follow the state's lead on the issue, but also sent a letter to Uber in May. The letter explained a chauffeur's license is required in Charleston, even if Uber doesn't require one. Charleston's legal department says Uber has not responded, and the city will cite any unlicensed drivers it finds.

That fine could cost up to $1,049. Uber regional general manager said the company wants to cooperate.

"We're going to work with city and state officials to come up with a regulatory scheme that does encapsulate ride-sharing," Billy Guernier said. "We're for any regulations that benefit consumers, that protect consumers and that protect competition."

The ride-sharing company is no stranger to legal battles. It's had similar issues in cities across the nation and world. Some cities like Tampa, Austin and Miami are treating ride-sharing programs like Uber as an unlicensed taxi company. New Orleans and Las Vegas passed laws banning it, and California, where the company is based, is the only state to actually regulate ride-sharing. It's also allowed in Detroit and DC.

Outside of its legality, the most common question people ask about service is if it's safe.

"We run a very detailed and extensive background check, driving records check," Guernier said. "Every trip is insured up to $1 million per incident, which is well in excess of what is required of taxis."

Guernier says the checks are so strict that 10 percent of cab drivers in Boston would fail them, but people still have some questions about the app.

"Typically when we go into a new market, there's some misunderstanding about what Uber is," Guernier said. "First of all, we don't own any cars or employ any drivers, what we do is make sure that the people who are providing the transportation are doing so in a safe manner."

Right now the company says there are hundreds of drivers signed up in South Carolina.

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