The rideshare company Uber has launched services in Annapolis, despite having threatened to leave Maryland over potential regulatory changes.
The company, which connects users of its smartphone app to drivers looking for fares and handles all associated transactions electronically, already operates in Baltimore. It opened all its services — uberX, UberBlack and UberSUV — to the Annapolis market Wednesday.
Shwetha Rajashekara, Uber's general manager for Maryland, said the company has watched interest in its app grow in Annapolis and thought this weekend, with Naval Academy events underway, would be a good time to launch in the state capital.
"As a tech company, we're able to see how many people are opening up the app in Annapolis, and we've seen thousands," Rajashekara said. "People in Annapolis are looking for reliable transportation options and they haven't been able to get them."
To promote the service, Uber Annapolis offered new users a free ride — up to a value of $40 — until May 31.
By then, the company's relationship with the state could become even less certain.
The Maryland Public Service Commission is expected to rule this month on a proposal to categorize Uber and other rideshare companies in the state as "common carriers" and subject them to the same regulations as taxi companies and drivers.
Critics of Uber, including taxi companies, have said Uber drivers operate exactly as cabdrivers do, but have an unfair advantage because they do not have the costs of becoming licensed. Issues of insurance, and how much Uber drivers should be covered, also have been raised.
Uber spokeswoman Natalia Montalvo has said it would be disappointing if the commission ruled against Uber, saying that such a decision would rely on "antiquated regulations to restrict transportation options for riders" and "limit economic opportunities for drivers."
The company has said it would appeal such a decision. Rajashekara said she is "very confident that consumer choice and competition will prevail."
Uber has been operating in Baltimore for a little over a year, and its drivers also serve areas in Maryland that are close to Washington. They have been known to respond to rider demand at major events in other parts of the state, such as concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia.