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Uber and its app-driven business have fueled a lobbying blitz by the taxi industry.

Uber is a common carrier, PSC rules

The Maryland Public Service Commission has ruled that ride-share company Uber Technologies Inc. is a common carrier.

Uber, which allows users to arrange for rides through a smartphone application, argued that it was not a common carrier because it just arranges rides and does not hire drivers or own the vehicles being used. But the commission found that the company’s UberBLACK and UberSUV services are subject to the commission’s jurisdiction.

“[W]hen viewed in their totality, the undisputed facts and circumstances in this case make it clear that Uber is engaged in the public transportation of persons for hire. Thus, Uber is a common carrier and a public service company over whom the Commission has jurisdiction,” the commission concluded.

The order directs Uber to apply for a motor carrier permit for its UberBLACK and UberSUV services within 60 days.

However, it also directs Commission staff to draft new regulations that protect the public interest, but also reflect the evolving nature of transportation services like Uber.

The new regulations “will address, specifically, new technologies used to manage and dispatch requests for transportation-for-hire services, method(s) used to provide notice of rates to the Commission and consumers, along with matters of insurance, vehicle safety and qualifications of drivers,” according to a statement by the PSC. “The new regulations will be drafted within 90 days and will include input from the parties in the case, including Uber, and other interested parties.”

According to the statement, UberX and Lyft were not part of this proceeding (Case 9325) and are not covered by the order (No. 86528), which is available on the Commission website.

Shortly after the ruling, Gov. Martin O’Malley responded with an email that focused on the PSC’s promise to draft new regulations.

“As new innovations change the transportation services landscape, we must ensure that our laws and regulations evolve as well – we shouldn’t try to limit a 21st century marketplace with 20th century regulations,” the email said.

People’s Counsel Paula Carmody issued a separate statement praising the commission for making “the right decision” on Uber.

“The Commission got it right because Uber is in the public transportation business, and it needs to play by the same rules as everyone else in Maryland that is in that business,” Carmody said.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment prior to press time Wednesday.

The PSC’s decision came on Uber’s appeal of an April determination by the agency’s chief public utility law judge. Uber has threatened to leave the state if it faces the same regulations as traditional transportation providers.

Last Friday, Uber sent an email to users urging them to call the commission on the company’s behalf, and to lobby against labeling the company as common carrier.

“The PSC’s attempt to regulate Uber as a ‘common carrier’—a fancy way of saying transportation company—is like the FAA trying to regulate Orbitz, an online travel platform, as an airline simply because the company books flights out of BWI,” the email reads.

Separately, Uber is facing lawsuits in Maryland by about three dozen cab companies on antitrust and unfair competition claims.

The Daily Record’s Bryan P. Sears contributed to this report.

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