Uber v. Taxis: Whoever Wins, We Lose
While Mary Cheh's push to regulate luxury cab service Uber has stalled for now, some recent tough talk from D.C. taxi commission head Ron Linton suggests such efforts will return eventually. Hopefully the attempt to regulate Uber will focus on the fracas's real victims: people who find both sides despicable.
Washington's news spectators have been pretty lucky in their controversies lately. Whether it's a councilmember who stole money from kids or a power company that can't keep the lights on, the choices for our heroes and villains are usually pretty easy.
Not so in the Uber tussle, though. The initial impulse is to be on the side of the smartphone innovators shaking up the cab industry. Washington's taxi drivers are, for the most part, opposed to every change that will make a cab ride more pleasant. They opposed the switch from zones to meters, and, more recently, the mandate to install credit cards and GPS trackers.
Instead, a read through Uber's Twitter feed—with its leitmotif that using Uber makes one look like a rock star—makes you want to join a cab strike and roll out the guillotine. As frustrating as D.C.'s cab drivers are, the reflexive opposition to government regulation by Uber's supporters is just as grating. Without the cab commission, the only barrier to operating as a cab driver would be getting a car, wrecking any chance of cab drivers making a living wage.
But just when you're on the cab drivers' side, you remember that Uber serves neighborhoods the taxis won't, and you're back where you started.
Washington hasn't seen so intense rivalry since the 2010 primary fight between Vince Gray and Adrian Fenty. That muddle eventually clarified in a flood of indictments. With luck, the Uber-taxi fight will end with everyone involved going to prison, too.