Uber announces plan for 5,000 new Md. drivers in next year

Want to be an Uber driver? The company wants to bring on 500 new ones in Baltimore

Uber Technologies will put 50,000 new drivers to work in East Coast cities where it operates in the next year, including 5,000 in Maryland and about 500 in Baltimore, the ride-sharing company announced Friday in Annapolis.

Uber's drivers operate as independent contractors, many of them part time.

"From the [San Francisco] Bay Area to Baltimore, riders and driver partners are leveraging Uber's technology to stay connected to their community and the people within it," the San Francisco-based company said in a statement. "While Uber expands its footprint across the East Coast, we remain committed to driving economic opportunity and development for the cities in which we operate."

The initiative, which the company has called "Uber's Urban Partnership," or "UberUP," will partner with the nonprofit Initiative for a Competitive Inner City to "reach thousands of urban residents through local events, skill-building courses and information sessions in an effort to ensure that the opportunity of entrepreneurship is available to all," the company said.

The announcement in Annapolis on Friday afternoon drew an urban renewal expert, an NAACP representative, the head of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and lawmakers from Baltimore City and Prince George's County who all praised the move as key to bringing employment to people left out of the economic recovery.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity that Uber opens up for jobs, jobs, jobs," said Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a Democrat from Baltimore. "That's what we're about. Good-paying jobs for our people."

Glenn, who said she had never used the car-sharing service before co-sponsoring legislation to create a new regulatory plan for Uber, said she's done a lot of research and values the dependability and transparency that Uber's service provides.

"In Baltimore City, we absolutely need help with our transportation," she said.

Bob Ross, president of the Prince George's County chapter of the NAACP, praised the urban expansion as a way to let entrepreneurs quickly turn a profit.

"It gives people a chance to have a part-time job, or a full-time job, without the expense of starting a business," he said.

Uber's general manager for the Maryland, Washington and Virginia region said drivers could make between $16 and $30 an hour, and it was crucial to keep the overhead low for those drivers.

"These are jobs for everyone, but it's important that the barriers that are in front of this job are so low, and I think it's important to keep it that way," Uber's Zuhairah Washington said. "That is a great equalizer."

The announcement comes as state regulators and legislators alike are grappling with how best to carve out space for Uber and its competitors like Lyft in the state's traditional taxi market.

This week, Uber also announced several days of free rides for users in Annapolis.

On Thursday, the Maryland Public Service Commission, which is reviewing new rideshare regulations, announced it had reached a deal for Uber's sedan and SUV services to continue operating in the state.

Next month, the PSC will hold a rule-making session for broader regulations for Uber's services, including its most popular UberX service.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, has also for the second year introduced legislation that would provide lighter regulatory oversight for Uber and other ride-sharing companies in the state.

krector@baltsun.com

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