City Desk

Uber Über Alles?

At DCist, Benjamin R. Freed has a good rundown on this morning's sting on a Virginia limo driver who has a contract with Uber, the new car-booking service that connects riders with drivers. Ron Linton, the D.C. Taxicab Commission says Uber's acting illegally, and used the service to book a limousine; once he arrived at the Mayflower, where he had agents waiting, he ordered the car impounded and the driver fined for two violations. One, Virginia drivers can't pick up passengers in D.C. unless they're taking them to Virginia, and two, limos are supposed to charge a fare set in advance—not a fee based on distance traveled.

We admit there's something rather thuggish in Linton's tactics. Instead of dealing directly with the company, he's chosen to go after an individual driver, possibly scaring others of that ilk from working with Uber.

But the Twitter outrage from über-Uber fans seems to miss the point a bit. It's looking like the firm started operating in the city without working with the Taxi Commission in advance to be sure of what the laws are (officials say they spoke to the commission, but Linton says he didn't talk to them). The campaign Uber has organized using the #UberDCLove hashtag appears to be urging that the city just leave the service alone. But as Mike Debonis writes, this is an opportunity for them to push to change the city's current taxi cab regulatory regime—which, it should be noted, protects really terrible cab service—not seek to be ignored by it.

In a perfect world, a service like Uber would be a boon for people who have trouble catching cabs in the city—black men, anyone going to Anacostia—but its biggest inroads are with wealthy early adopter types who love their smartphones, are willing to pay $25 for a cab ride, and will fire off an angry tweet about D.C. policy without much thought. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but having Uber's cause being taken up by people who care mostly about their own comfort could further divide a city that wants the same things: Reliable cab service to where they want to go, and a few basic amenities like credit card readers.

Photo by Matt Dunn

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  • Tracy G

    You make some fair points here and good business means following the established policies, but there is no question that DC is better off with Uber. The "we'll get there when we get there" approach of DC cabs (not to mention the rude, condescending nature of the dispatchers) is infuriating and has caused me to be late for meetings, dinners, even flights. Uber is expensive so its not an option for everyone, in fact it's not even an option for me unless absolutely necessary (like a recent rainy night, pre-Uber, during which I waited for my cab for two hours and made four check-in calls to the dispatcher before finally giving up). There is no question that competition brought on by Uber benefits residents, who will now have another transportation option -- and one that is actually reliable. What remains to be seen is whether Uber's presence will have the residual benefit of improving DC's dismal cab service in the process.

  • Don

    Unless you think a company owes the Taxicab Commission some sort of fealty I don't understand this claim that Uber somehow owed it to them to memorably speak to them. They're a regulatory agency and there are municipal rules that govern their behavior. If Uber contracted with legal council - or even read the rules themselves and were willing to bank their operation on their own understanding - then why SHOULD they talk to Linton? Asking a regulatory agency if you have to conform to their wishes strikes me as about as reasonable as asking the barber if you need a haircut.

  • James

    The Taxicab Commission has the right to enforce its regulations. You cannot avoid or evade regulations by tweets, blogs or facebook campaigns. I think Uber, for now, wants the publicity. Ultimately, it will abide by the regulations.

  • seeseehpounder

    So a corrupt organization staged a "sting" to catch a company who didn't speak (pay) them? I'm surprised Linton wasn't late for the sting because he couldn't catch a cab. Council members are being given envelopes filled with cash from the cabbies and cops are being paid to wait on some poor driver to arrive from VA to put the cuffs on him. Great job DC! Way to protect the corrupt monopoly. I'm sure the token system will be much better...

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