Law Prohibiting Out-Of-State Uber Drivers Unlikely To Change Anything In OC; Enforcement A Major Challenge

OCEAN CITY — Despite changes in state law regarding the licensing of Uber drivers from out of state operating in Ocean City and across Maryland, the resort’s hands are somewhat tied in terms of enforcement.

At Monday’s Police Commission meeting, the issue of the growing number of out-of-state Uber drivers operating in Ocean City was broached and commission members learned despite changes in state licensing requirements, there is very little Ocean City Police can do in terms of enforcement. The General Assembly this year passed legislation requiring Uber drivers operating in Maryland to acquire a license from the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The license will be issued only after a thorough vetting by the PSC in terms of background checks and other requirements including proof in insurance, for example.

Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said the licensing process is much more restrictive, but there was little language in the bill for stepped-up enforcement.

“This is more comprehensive than ever before,” he said. “The language is more restrictive than ever. It used to be up to Uber. Now, they have to go through the Public Service Commission.”

However, the PSC will not issue a physical license, nor will any sticker or other sign of a licensed driver be affixed to the vehicles. OCPD Records Section Manager Michelle Monico, who serves as taxi program coordinator, said despite the law changes, it will continue to be difficult to determine who has obtained the license and who has not.

“The Public Service Commission is not going to give out an actual permit,” she said. “There is no way of verifying if they do or don’t have the permit. The only way to get any information is by court order.”

City Solicitor Guy Ayres pointed out an example of a potential out-of-state Uber driver operating in and around the resort to illustrate the challenges in determining who has obtained the PSC license.

“If you’re an out-of-state Uber driver from Pennsylvania on vacation in Ocean City and you want to earn a little extra money by picking up fares on your down time, we’ll never know if they have a permit or not,” he said.  “We really don’t have any way of verifying anything.”

Mayor Rick Meehan asked if the new PSC requirements, boiled down to their simplest terms, had changed how the resort can enforce out-of-state unlicensed drivers.

“Has anything changed with Uber operators in Ocean City?” he said. “The answer is probably not.”

There is no way of telling for certain just how many out-of-state Uber drivers are operating in the resort. Ocean City gets a fee of 25 cents for every fare picked up and dropped off in the resort and the first installment from Uber last year was around $400. That equates to about 1,200 fares, which on the surface appears pretty low, and the actual number is likely considerably higher than that.

Ayres pointed to a recent report of a women being assaulted by an Uber driver in a different area of the country, an incident which resulted in a civil suit being filed by the victim against the driver and Uber to illustrate how the growing company is stepping up its self-vetting of potential drivers.

“Once they started facing liability claims, they tightened up their own processing of drivers,” he said.

Again, Meehan asked if the rule changes in terms of licensing for out-of-state drivers was enforceable.

“Are we within our legal rights?” he said. “Are we allowed, if we see people picking up or dropping off to ask for their credentials?”

OCPD Captain Kevin Kirstein said the department would not likely pull Uber drivers over randomly to check their credentials, but they could be cited for various traffic violations that would result in checks.

“It’s very easy for the ones out by the highway because they might be in violation of vehicle laws for illegal stops, for example,” he said. “Once they turn on the side streets, it’s a little more difficult.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.