Charleston police threatening Uber drivers with fines, jail time

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published July 23, 2014

The city of Charleston might soon start cracking down on ride-sharing services such as Uber that don’t have proper licensing.

Charleston spokeswoman Barbara Vaughn released a statement Tuesday afternoon clarifying state and city requirements for transportation services.

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Though she did not specifically mention San Francisco-based Uber, she said “new ride-share companies utilizing ride-sharing smartphone apps” have not met requirements for taxicab and limousine licenses from the state or the city.

Uber, which was founded in 2009 and is now in more than 70 cities, began operating in Charleston, Greenville, Columbia and Myrtle Beach on July 10. The company uses a mobile app to connect potential passengers to taxicab and private-car services.

By law, taxi and limo drivers are required to obtain a chauffeur’s license from the police department, which requires a criminal background check and driver history report. Companies also must have a regulated fee structure — on the Charleston peninsula, for example, any licensed vehicle ride requires a mandatory $5 charge, according to Vaughn.

Confirmation of commercial liability insurance that covers passengers is also necessary. Vehicles that are being used as a taxi also must pass an inspection and display a license plate conveying that the vehicle is for hire.

“These requirements are for the safety of the consumer,” Vaughn said. “Riders utilizing the ride-sharing companies are generally not provided these safety measures.”

Drivers — not the company — who violate one of the vehicles-for-hire laws could be issued a fine up to $1,097 and sent to jail for 30 days, according to Vaughn.

“The city of Charleston Police Department is seeking voluntary compliance before taking enforcement action,” Vaughn said.

Uber’s Charleston webpage says the base fare for an uberX ride, which is the company’s cheaper option, is $1.95 plus 20 cents per minute and $1.75 per mile. The minimum fare is $4 and cancellation fee is $5, the site says. Rates can change, however, “at times of intense demand” to keep vehicles available.

UberX drivers have mid-range or hybrid vehicles with seating for up to four passengers, according to the company.

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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