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Uber to file long appeal of Maryland proposal to regulate it as taxi operator

Uber Technologies still has a lot to say about the Maryland Public Service Commission's plan to regulate it and other popular rideshare companies as taxi operators — and the regulating agency will hear the company out.

Uber, which has said it will leave the state if the changes introduced last month go into effect, notified the commission Tuesday that it plans to appeal the proposal. On Wednesday, the day the changes would have taken effect, the commission granted the company's request to write a 60-page appeal before a decision is made.

Appeals are usually limited to 15 pages, but the company saud that restriction "would severely limit Uber's ability to address all of the salient issues" in the commission's proposal.

"There are a lot of things that just need to be refuted and explained, and so we felt like it was important to have the space and the time to make what we feel like is a very, very compelling case on our behalf," said Rachel Holt, Uber's East Coast regional manager.

The commission said it found "good cause" to allow the extension — its own proposal was 54 pages long — but did not elaborate. It said it would allow responses to Uber's appeal from other parties in the case to run 60 pages as well.

Uber has 10 days to file its appeal, and other parties in the case — the commission's staff counsel, the Maryland Office of People's Counsel and Yellow Transportation, the largest cab operator in Baltimore — will have 20 days to respond.

With the appeal process started, there is now no deadline for the commission to issue its final ruling, said Regina Davis, a commission spokeswoman.

In the commission's proposal, Judge Terry J. Romine wrote that Uber should be subject to the jurisdiction of the commission because it is a "public service company" that offers rides for hire. Taxi operators have said the lack of regulation on rideshare companies has given the tech-savvy startups an unfair advantage over regulated taxi operators in the streets of Baltimore and other areas of Maryland.

Uber has said it is not a taxi operator but a technology company that connects riders with drivers through its smartphone app. If Uber suddenly had to operate like a taxi company, Holt said, the company would have to leave.

"The business that they're trying to put us in is simply not a business that we're in," said Holt, adding that independent drivers who get customer leads from Uber would also be hurt by its departure.

"This is literally about disenfranchising a tremendous number of small-business owners in Maryland," she said.

The company has made similar arguments to regulators trying to make sense of its model across the country. Uber and another popular rideshare company, Lyft, both allow smartphone users to summon cabs through mobile apps, which the users also pay through.

Uber supported legislation this past session in Annapolis that would have allowed it to continue calling itself a smartphone app, not a cab company, but would have required background checks for its drivers, rideshare insurance of up to $1 million and vehicle inspections. That legislation failed.

Despite its threat to leave the state if the commission's proposal stands, Uber announced on May 21 that it expanded into Annapolis — where it said demand for its app was high.

Holt said she's hopeful Maryland regulators will see the value of keeping Uber in the state.

"This would be the first state in the country that Uber would pull out of," she said. "This would set a state that has branded itself as innovation-friendly back in a significant way."

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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