The Senate Transportation Committee has passed a bill that would require ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to carry insurance and run background checks on drivers.
Officials with Uber say the company already complies with those provisions and asked that the bill move forward. The measure would also ensure that the company’s drivers could operate at airports and would not face a patchwork of city and county regulations across the state.
“It would codify into law for the entire industry many of the safety standards that have attracted both riders and drivers to (transportation network companies),” said Arathi Mehrotra, general manager for Uber in North Carolina.
Under the Senate Bill 541, ride-sharing drivers would have to be covered by at least $1 million in liability insurance when they were driving for the company. Companies would have to conduct criminal background checks on their drivers. Airports could set aside areas where transportation network companies, or TNCs, could pick up and drop off passengers but could not exclude them entirely. The bill also would prohibit local governments from imposing fees or requiring additional licenses.
Regulation of ride-sharing services has been on lawmakers’ radar for much of the past year. Uber and similar companies use a smartphone app to match drivers, who want to earn money by taking passengers, and riders, who want to bypass public transportation or taxi cabs.
In fact, taxi drivers have objected to the state stepping in to sanction the industry, saying that ride-sharing drivers aren’t as well vetted, nor are their cars as rigorously inspected, as taxi drivers are.
“Right now, this is a haven for criminals,” said Lee Churchill, a cab driver and industry representative who spoke to the Senate committee.
Churchill submitted a seven-page document to the committee purporting to document ride-sharing drivers acting contrary to how companies like Uber say they should. She said drivers for the company should face regulations akin to what taxi drivers face.
“You can’t regulate a company out of California, but you can regulate the drivers and vehicles,” she said.
However, at least two members of the committee questioned why the state was regulating ride-sharing services at all.
“Individuals should have the right in the state to pick up who they want in their vehicle and make whatever arrangements they want with that individual and what they want to charge for driving them to the store or driving them to other things,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell.
The bill cleared the Senate Transportation Committee on a voice vote. It will be considered by the Senate’s Finance Committee before heading to the floor.