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Uber proposes settlement to stay in Maryland

A smartphone displays the Uber ridesharing app upon launch.
A smartphone displays the Uber ridesharing app upon launch. (Getty Images)

Uber proposed a settlement Tuesday with the Maryland Public Safety Commission that would allow it to continue operating in the state legally — a compromise enabling it to back down from earlier statements that it would leave if it were required to operate as a cab company.

In the proposal, the rideshare company said it would drop its 60-page appeal of the commission's decision to require it to operate as a common carrier; instead it would have a subsidiary, Drinnen Inc., apply for a permit and provide a list of Uber drivers to the commission. Uber asked that regulation be updated to refer to it as a "broker," using a digital platform to connect passengers and transportation providers. It requested approval of "surge pricing," in which the cost of a ride rises based on the local demand, and said Drinnen would provide the commission and the public with schedules and prices.

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The proposal would address Uber Black and Uber SUV, the company's more upscale services, but not Uber X or Uber XL, the low-cost options that match riders with drivers who use their personal vehicles.

If it is accepted, the company would agree to use only drivers with Maryland passenger-for-hire drivers licenses, except in cases where drivers are taking passengers into the state from neighboring states.

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An Uber spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment on the proposal Tuesday night.

In the commission's original proposal in April, Judge Terry J. Romine wrote that Uber should be regulated as a common carrier like a cab service because it is a "public service company" that offers rides for hire. Taxi operators lauded Romine's opinion, as they have long argued that the rideshare companies enjoy an unfair advantage because they don't face the same regulation as traditional cab companies. Critics have also raised safety concerns regarding background checks and standards for drivers.

Uber has said it is not a taxi operator but a technology company that connects riders with drivers through its smartphone app. It is one of several such companies that have faced legislative battles in several cities over the concerns.

Uber supported legislation in Maryland this year that would have required background checks, vehicle inspections and rideshare insurance of up to $1 million. The bills, which would have created state law allowing Uber to call itself a smartphone app, rather than a cab company, failed.

The company and the commission's staff, which created Tuesday's settlement proposal together, asked the commission to call a special hearing to consider it. It is not clear when that hearing might take place.

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