Myrtle Beach officials issued a stern warning to those who participate in the Uber ride-sharing service: drivers who are caught operating without the proper licensing could be arrested and riders likely will not be covered by insurance if they are involved in an accident.
City attorney Tom Ellenburg told Myrtle Beach City Council on Tuesday that by using a personal vehicle to pick riders up for a fee, drivers turn their car into a delivery device.
“They need to have either a taxi or a [charter limousine] tag,” he said. “But the real issue is from a public safety standpoint. Their personal insurance in no way protects a delivery passenger. ... There is nothing to protect you in terms of payment for your injury.”
UberX, the low-cost wing of Uber Technologies Inc., allows those needing a ride to connect with local drivers at a price the company says is cheaper than those offered by taxicabs. As of noon July 10, uberX said drivers would be available in Myrtle Beach and three other S.C. cities – Charleston, Greenville and Columbia.
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Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett reiterated Uber’s stance when it comes to jurisdictions regulating their company: the company is not a transportation business, it’s a technology business. He said the company will stand by its drivers.
Taxi drivers attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting to share concerns about letting Uber operate.
“What they’re doing is a completely illegal operation in Myrtle Beach,” said Charlie Moore, manager of Diamond Cab. “Doing things the proper way is not the cheap way. If we don’t do something about this, we’re going to kill the cab company here. ... We’ve got to have your help as soon as you can.”
City manager Tom Leath told Moore that the city is looking closely at Uber.
“We’ll take necessary action to deal with this,” he said.
Ellenburg said those who drive for Uber could be identified through a police sting operation – where a police officer requests a ride from the service.
The penalty for operating without a business license and operating without a certificate of convenience and necessity, also called a medallion, could be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $500 plus court costs and/or 30 days in jail upon conviction. Each day of illegal operation is a separate violation.
Ellenburg said drivers found operating Uber could face penalties anywhere from a citation to having their car towed and being arrested.
“If you’re doing this and you don’t have a business license, you don’t have a medallion, you’ve broken the law – a few of them,” Councilman Randal Wallace said. “Lock them up.”
Ellenburg said the city also could consider filing civil suits against individual drivers and, possibly, against Uber once enough evidence is gathered.
Bennett said the company stands behind its drivers, which he said all must go through a “stringent and rigorous background check,” and will support them with any legal or financial needs with any “unjust” arrests or citations.
The driver background check includes seven years of driving history as well as a criminal check, where any potential driver who has a history of sex offense, violent or gun-related crimes, reckless driving and other crimes is not allowed to partner with the company, Bennett said.
He said the company plans to work with cities and counties in South Carolina, as well as the state, to modernize the laws regulating transportation.
“The people of Myrtle Beach are demanding a better way to get around town,” Bennett said. “To limit that choice for consumers is detrimental to the city.”