Politics & Government

Uber rules push ahead; taxi drivers say they don’t go far enough

Uber driver partner Lisa Schuerenberg takes a fare to a destination in Durham in December. A House committee approved new regulations for the ride-hailing company and its competitors.
Uber driver partner Lisa Schuerenberg takes a fare to a destination in Durham in December. A House committee approved new regulations for the ride-hailing company and its competitors. cliddy@newsobserver.com

An N.C. House committee voted Tuesday to push ahead with regulations for Uber and similar ride-hailing companies that have changed the taxi industry in recent years.

The bill would require ride-hailing companies to purchase insurance that covers their drivers and passengers, including coverage for times when a driver doesn’t have a passenger but has made their vehicle available through the app.

They’d also have to conduct local and national criminal background checks on all drivers, pay a $5,000 annual fee to the state, and disclose fares to customers before they request a ride.

The bill was developed with input from Uber, its competitors and insurance companies. “Uber is already abiding by these safety and insurance requirements,” said Arathi Mehrotra, general manager for Uber in North Carolina. “Passing this bill will ensure that North Carolina residents can access safe, reliable and affordable options.”

Some taxi drivers have said the bill doesn’t level the playing field with Uber because taxis must still obtain licenses in each city they operate in. Most cities require drivers to be photographed and fingerprinted, while Uber’s background checks are online. A few Senate Republicans voted against the bill, citing concerns about unfair competition for taxis.

No one spoke against the bill at Tuesday’s House Transportation Committee meeting. “I’m not aware of any opposition to the bill,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham.

Current law has no such requirements for the services, which launched in North Carolina about a year ago. The apps connect users looking for a ride with nearby drivers who are willing to offer one in their private cars – often at fares below what traditional taxis charge.

Without regulations, drivers and their passengers could find themselves uninsured. Most personal vehicle insurance policies don’t apply if an accident occurs while the car is being used for a commercial activity.

The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the House Finance Committee.

Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg County Republican who’s pushing the bill in the House, said not every group got what it wanted in the regulations. “Nobody’s ecstatic, but everybody can live with it,” he said. “It has all the hallmarks of good compromise legislation.”

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