The city of Annapolis has ordered Uber, the company behind a popular ride-sharing application, to stop its service in the capital until it registers as a taxi company.
Mayor Mike Pantelides said Monday it's important for Uber to follow the same regulations as the taxicabs that operate in Annapolis.
"I'm happy to know there is another means of transportation that will help increase our city's mobility efforts, but I must also be diligent in insisting that they are regulated, just like our taxicabs, in an effort to keep our citizens and visitors safe," Pantelides said in a statement.
Acting City Manager Brian Woodward sent a letter to Uber on June 25 instructing the company to register with the city and state or cease its operations in Annapolis.
On Monday, Uber officials repeated an earlier argument that it is not a taxi company but rather a technology company that connects riders to drivers through its smartphone application. The Uber app makes the matches and handles the payments.
In a statement, Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said: "Uber isn't a taxi company any more than Maryland blue crab is a pelican — Uber is a technology platform that connects consumers to an array of on-demand options from rides to helicopters to ice cream to kittens."
Bennett said Uber would work with Annapolis, though city officials said they have not received a response from the company.
Uber has opposed a proposal from the Maryland Public Service Commission to regulate its ride-sharing service. The company has threatened to leave the state if the regulations go through. The commission plans to classify Uber and other ride-sharing companies as "common carriers" that would be subject to the same regulations as taxi companies.
This month, more than 30 Maryland cab companies sued Uber, alleging antitrust violations and seeking financial damages. The cab companies alleged Uber's surge-pricing model is essentially price-fixing, and its refusal to follow cab regulations creates an unfair playing field. Uber said it would "vigorously defend the rights of riders to enjoy competition and choice, and drivers to build their own small businesses."
Annapolis defines taxis as vehicles for hire that carry seven or fewer passengers, including the driver, and that solicit passengers in the city. Annapolis has 12 cab companies and 25 independent owners, totaling about 200 drivers.
Robert Eades, owner of Neat N Klean taxi company in Annapolis, said the city already is saturated with cabs and there's not enough business to support Uber. He bristled at the fact that Uber drivers don't have to follow the same regulations as cab drivers.
"They're coming in, setting their own rules, that's what irks me the most," Eades said.
Annapolis regulations include rules for the cabs' fare meters, color schemes, safety equipment, lights and cleanliness. Cabs are required to undergo annual inspections by the city and can be subject to unannounced inspections by police. Drivers are subjected to drug tests. Rates are set by the Annapolis City Council.
Founded in 2009, Uber says the app is now available in more than 70 cities. Uber began offer its service in Baltimore more than a year ago and expanded into Annapolis in late May. Bennett said Uber has thousands of riders and hundreds of drivers who have completed thousands of trips in Annapolis.
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