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WV House passes Uber bill

Smartphones display Uber car availability in New York on Nov. 21, 2014.

The West Virginia House of Delegates pushed the accelerator Monday on letting Uber offer rides in West Virginia.

House members voted 94 to 4 to pass legislation (HB 4228) that allows ridesharing companies, including Uber and Lyft, to operate in the state.

State lawmakers expect Uber’s service to be popular in Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown.

The legislation’s supporters said clearing the way for Uber would create jobs and reduce drunk-driving incidents.

“It’s safe, reliable transportation,” said House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan.

Those opposing the bill said it would give ride-sharing companies an unfair advantage over taxi cabs, whose rates are regulated by the state Public Service Commission. Taxi companies also must provide workers’ compensation insurance to drivers.

“We’re creating a situation of unfair competition,” said John Kelly, R-Wood.

Delegate Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, said his constituents frequently ask him about Uber.

Marshall University students and area tourism officials support allowing the company to operate in West Virginia, he said. Cabell County has hosted a national youth soccer tournament in recent years.

“With events like that here, there needs to be more transportation,” Reynolds said. According to the bill, Uber drivers would have to secure a permit from the state Division of Motor Vehicles. Drivers would undergo criminal background checks and must have clean background checks. They would not be able to accept cash or respond to curbside hails from potential passengers.

“One knows before they get picked up how much the fare will be to get from Point A to Point B,” said Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. “These are quality rides.”

Uber and other contractors would be required to provide $1 million in insurance. The transportation networking companies also must have zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policies.

The Republican-controlled House pushed for an Uber bill last year, but a group of lawmakers torpedoed the legislation by opposing a provision to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender riders from discrimination.

Last week, Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, proposed an amendment to the Uber bill that would require ridesharing companies to adopt non-discrimination policies that listed specific classes of people. The House rejected Skinner’s proposal.

The legislation does mandate the companies have non-discrimination policies, but the policies can’t be more stringent than existing state laws that bar discrimination.

Uber hires drivers who provide taxi-like services. Riders solicit Uber drivers with a phone app. All payments are electronic.

Uber drivers use their own vehicles.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, a longtime taxi driver, noted that it’s hard to make a living as an Uber driver, and the company doesn’t pay any benefits. But he voted for the bill, nonetheless.

“Choice is always better,” Pushkin said. “I think it would be good for the consumer.”

The bill next moves to the Senate. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has said he supports legislation to allow ride-sharing companies in West Virginia.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.