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D.C. Taxi Commission Faces Backlash for Sting Operation on New Car Service

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Unread 01.17.12, 02:49 PM
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D.C. Taxi Commission Faces Backlash for Sting Operation on New Car Service

On 01.17.12 01:45 PM posted by Lachlan Markay

A District of Columbia city council member is calling on the city’s taxicab commission to allow competition to its “mediocre and unreliable” taxi services in the wake of a sting operation aimed at shutting down an innovative car service that officials say violates a number of city laws.

If current law prohibits such competition, stated Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), the law should be amended to allow for “improve[d] transportation options for residents and visitors alike.”

Cheh’s statement comes days after city officials conducted a sting operation on Uber, an innovate startup company that works with local drivers to provide on-demand town car service in the metro D.C. area. (Uber also operates in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, and Paris.)

The company does not actually own any of the vehicles used, so its operations tend to fall into a gray area: Is Uber a taxi company, which must use metered fares, or a limousine company, which negotiates fares with riders before a trip (there are additional criteria for each)?

The District maintains that Uber is a taxi company under city law. The city’s taxicab commissioner personally led a sting operation against the company last week, charging it with a range of violations and even impounding the vehicle.

Assuming D.C.’s charges hold up, Cheh has called on the city government to “amend District law to permit Uber and similar companies to operate legally here.” In the amsence of such a law, Cheh noted, “it seems to me that a better approach [than the commission’s heavy-handed one] would be to encourage innovation and work with Uber and other similar businesses in order to bring them into compliance.”

Cheh touted the need for innovation in the taxi market, which, interestingly, is also a key pillar of the taxicab commission’s mission statement, which calls for “a system of rules and regulations … that allow for technological advancements to be introduced to the industry.”

But the specter of political gamesmanship looms over the commission’s investigation. The commissioner was appointed by the District’s new mayor, Vincent Gray, who received overwhelming – even illegal, in some instances – support from the city’s cab drivers. The commission recently raised cab fares throughout the city.

Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, spoke at Heritage last month on the day of the company’s D.C. launch. He discussed disruptive technology and business innovation, including some of the challenges he’s faced in other cities.

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