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PSC wants info on Uber car service

Uber Technologies is seeking judicial review of a subpoena by the Maryland Public Service Commission for what the company claims is “highly sensitive commercial information” about its on-demand car services.

The PSC had ordered San Francisco-based Uber to turn over by Thursday the list of the names of the drivers and vehicles that use the service, as well as a list of individuals who have been issued smartphones by Uber to use the service. The PSC is investigating whether Uber is a “common carrier,” or transport service, and therefore subject to PSC oversight.

Instead, Uber filed a request for an emergency hearing Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

“The mere fact that such information has been turned over to the Commission could cause drivers/companies to avoid using Uber Software Application out of fear of being subject to unwarranted scrutiny or intimidation by Uber opponents,” the motion states.

The PSC’s initial request, issued in August, was the first time Uber has been asked to turn over information about drivers using the service, said Nairi Hourdajian, a company spokeswoman. State agencies in Colorado, Minnesota and Texas already have looked into whether Uber is a carrier service and none has found it is, according to Hourdajian.

Uber launched in January in Baltimore and has “tens of thousands” of users locally, according to Hourdajian, who declined to give a more specific number. The service is in 45 cities across the world; its smartphone app connects independent drivers to customers, using GPS to locate the nearest driver to the customer.

Drivers who use Uber have been vetted by the company as insured and licensed by the jurisdiction’s public service commission and they use authorized vehicles, Hourdajian said.

“Given that [the drivers] are already licensed by the PSC, there is no compelling jurisdictional reason for us to turn over the information requested,” she said.

Regina L. Davis, a spokeswoman for the PSC, said the agency does not comment on matters currently before it.

In its Sept. 25 order, the PSC said the information sought in the subpoena is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”

The order noted the information would be kept confidential and viewed only by individuals who signed confidentiality agreements in the case.

“No one should be afraid of being subject to regulatory scrutiny,” the order states. “…[T]he issue of whether or not Uber meets the definition of a ‘common carrier’ or ‘public service company’ must be determined by the facts, and not merely legal briefing.”

The PSC was initially asked last October by Yellow Transportation, which operates several taxi companies, to look into Uber and similar services. A PSC staff counsel memo denied the request, finding it was unclear how Uber intended to operate in Baltimore and what state statute or regulation it was violating.

In February, however, the PSC instructed its staff to look into the “operations of Uber and other companies operating in a similar manner to Uber,” according to Uber’s motion. A staff report issued in May determined Uber should be subject to the PSC’s jurisdiction.

Yellow Cab successfully petitioned to become an intervenor in the case in the summer, according to PSC records.

Evidentiary hearings in the case are scheduled for November, according to Hourdajian.