Makers of the mobile app Uber have maintained that it is not a transportation company, just a “technology service that connects independent drivers with passengers.” But the Maryland Public Service Commission disagrees. In a ruling on Wednesday, the PSC label Uber a “common carrier,” noting that the company not only links passengers to drivers, but also sets prices, collects money from customers, and pays drivers.
As a common carrier, Uber is allowed to operate anywhere in the state, but its vehicles cannot be hailed like a taxi. Their pricing model, which “surges” at high-demand times, may be cramped by the need for common carriers to give notice of any rate changes to the PSC.
The company complained in an email to customers that treating Uber as a transportation service is like treating “Orbitz, an online travel booking platform, as an airline.” Umm, right, assuming that Orbitz were connecting passengers to independent pilots who own their planes rather than booking flights on established airlines. The comparison is apples and oranges, and if anything, is counter to Uber’s argument. If Orbitz were finding you a seat with Jake Who Owns a Plane instead of Jetblue, wouldn’t you hope it was held to the same standards as an airline?
On the other hand, the PSC also decided to begin updating regulations for common carriers to accommodate new 21st century transportation models. So we’ll see how that shakes out.
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