- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The North Carolina legislature gave its final OK to state regulations Thursday for ride-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar, a move supporters say will protect consumers and drivers of the mobile phone-based services and encourage competition.

The House voted overwhelmingly for rules hammered out in committees and negotiations with outside groups dating back to last year. The legislation already received Senate approval and now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said nothing publicly against the measure. His office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the bill.

The bill sets minimum standards for background checks of potential drivers and company liability coverage on private cars owned by their contract drivers as they transport customers or wait for jobs. Smartphone apps link customers with drivers selling rides at certain rates, which are paid for electronically.

Uber has publicly endorsed the regulations, which also requires “transportation network companies” to pay $5,000 state permit fees. Uber is now in more than a dozen North Carolina markets and counts several thousand people among their available drivers.

Thursday’s vote “confirms that the General Assembly overwhelmingly stands for innovation and greater choice and opportunity,” Arathi Mehrotra, Uber’s general manager in North Carolina, said in a release. Uber says it already meets many of the bill’s requirements.

Twenty states have passed ride-sharing regulations this year, according to Mehrotra. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said companies likes Uber want a say in regulations now instead of later, when it’s possible standards could keep them out of certain markets or lead to what they consider overregulation.

The new rules “provide multiple levels of protections to the general public and those that are involved in these innovative transportation services,” McKissick said in an interview.

The taxi industry has been worried about the arrival of these services and argues that drivers will still be more regulated than the ride-sharing companies. While local governments are barred by the bill from limiting ride-sharing, local airports can charge fees for these drivers to pick up and drop off customers.

McKissick said he expects many taxi drivers will also become drivers for ride-sharing companies as well. The cashless transactions mean less reason drivers are in danger of being robbed.

Taxi services will have to learn to be more flexible to attract business, he said.

Historically they “have had a bit of a monopoly,” McKissick said. “The public will benefit from the competition.”

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