A bill clearing the way for commercial ride-sharing in Maryland passed the Senate Monday, a move proponents say should allow Uber, Lyft and similar companies to operate legally in the state.
SB868, approved 40-7, would set statewide rules for ride-sharing services, in which customers can arrange to be picked up by tapping out a request on their mobile phones.
Insurance and criminal background checks would be required for all drivers under the measure. Localities would be allowed to levy fees on ride-sharing trips as they do on taxi fares, but local governments could not regulate the companies' operations, as some do now.
"I think this will really prove Maryland can adapt to innovation," said Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore city Democrat who has championed the legislation.
Ferguson's bill, which would put ride-sharing clearly under the oversight of the state Public Service Commission, initially faced stiff opposition.
Ride-sharing proponents have argued they cannot function under the rigid regulations now in effect for taxi companies. But taxi companies complained of unfair competition if the ride-sharing outfits did not face the same requirements they did.
A month of negotiations yielded a breakthrough late last week, and the bill emerged from committee on Saturday afternoon without opposition. It now goes to the House of Delegates with hours to spare in the final day of the 90-day General Assembly session.
"If we get it through, it will finally cut through a lot of the uncertainty that has existed for these services and will create a brand new marketplace for innovative transportation solutions," Ferguson said.