For more than a year, the city of Charlotte has struggled with how it should regulate cars and drivers of ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft.
New legislation proposed in the General Assembly would take the issue entirely out of Charlotte’s hands, putting all regulation with the state.
Senate Bill 541, sponsored by Republican Bill Rabon of Southport, would regulate “transportation network companies” through the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.
The General Assembly has had legislation in the past that prohibited N.C. municipalities from regulating “digital dispatch” companies, but Charlotte believed it could still pass regulations that applied to drivers and their cars.
The proposed legislation would prohibit Charlotte or other municipalities from passing rules on companies, cars or drivers, said Assistant City Attorney Thomas Powers.
The City Council discussed the proposed legislation at its Monday meeting.
Among the provisions: The bill would require all drivers to have their vehicles inspected annually.
In addition, the legislation would require all companies to perform criminal background checks. Drivers couldn’t receive a permit if they have had some moving violations within a three-year period; if they appear in a national sex offender database; if they don’t have a driver’s license; or if they have convictions for DWI or fraud, within a seven-year period.
The city has some concerns, however.
The background checks on drivers aren’t conducted annually.
The bill does not address what’s known as “surge pricing,” in which drivers raise their rates during peak times. The idea behind surge pricing is to attract more drivers into the market place, the companies have said.
During Monday’s meeting, the council’s two Republicans, Ed Driggs and Kenny Smith, said they didn’t have a problem with surge pricing because it’s market-driven.
The city said the legislation does not require the companies to give a prospective passenger a photo of a driver and his or her car. That is common practice at Uber and Lyft. But Powers said the legislation would allow new companies to operate in N.C. without those standards.
“There are some concerns that any actor wouldn’t have to meet the standards of Uber and Lyft,” he said.
Powers said a “transportation network company” is one in which passengers use a cellphone app to hail a car or limo.
In theory, traditional taxi and limo companies could fall under the legislation if they started their own cellphone app services. But if a passenger gets a car by using the telephone, they would still be regulated by the city’s more restrictive passenger vehicle for hire ordinance.
Council member Michael Barnes said he wanted to ensure Uber, Lyft and taxi companies are regulated the same.