PUC rules could put the brakes on upstart technology company’s business

Posted on: 9:19 pm, February 7, 2013, by , updated on: 10:06pm, February 7, 2013

DENVER — A high-end upstart technology company taking on the Public Utilities Commission or PUC—and consumers could be caught in the middle.

The company, “Uber” just started operating in Colorado. But it says proposed rules could put the brakes on its business.

Forget hailing a taxi with your arm.

Uber now lets you summon a ride with the tap of a finger on your smartphone.

But these rides are luxury vehicles.

And the PUC says they’re trying to operate like taxis—when the company says that’s not the case.

Before Uber, Chad Dalton, a luxury car driver, used to sit around and wait between clients.

But now, Uber’s app lets him provide rides to customers in that down time.

“Uber fills those holes,” says Dalton. “We have the ability to log onto the phone and pick up clients. And when it’s time to take care of our private clients, you Uber off and take care of that.”

The technology company provides a phone and software to limo drivers with which it partners.

And in just six months of using it, it’s helped the “A Dandy One” limo company grow.

“We already bought one new vehicle. We’re buying another new vehicle. We hired eight drivers. We’re looking at interviewing another four drivers. They dramatically increased our business,” says Dalton.

Since Uber started up in Denver in August, they’ve grown to more than 10,000 customers and 200 drivers.

But proposed rule changes by the PUC have Uber worried that growth will come to a screeching halt.

“The proposed rule changes are tough. We believe too tough, tough to the point it would prohibit us from operating in Colorado,” says Uber general manager Will McCollum.

One change he says prohibits partnering with local sedan companies.

Another disallows Uber cars to be within 200 feet of a restaurant, bar, hotel or motel.

And a third makes it illegal for sedan companies to charge by distance.

“Our understanding is they are charging by the mile, mileage and time. And that is a taxi service that is not luxury limousine service,” says PUC spokesman Terry Bote.

He says the ride and price for limousine service must be pre-arranged—unlike taxis—that have a running total.

“For us, it’s a consumer protection issue, we heard from customers they’ve gotten in a vehicle and expected a certain price. And when their credit card was charged, it’s two-three-four times higher,” says Bote.

He says these changes were made before Uber came to Colorado.

Bote also says if Uber wants its partner-drivers to operate like taxis, they should apply to the Taxi Authority, which is much more regulated than limos.

He says they could also push for legislative change.

“We are trying to enforce the laws as they exist in the state of Colorado. That is our obligation,” says Bote.

The public has until Monday to submit online comments about the proposed changes.

The PUC will make a decision during a hearing March 11.