Uber showdown Monday at the Council

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Listen to Sept. 22 edition of The Taxi Link on WUST 1120 AM

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“Uber is having it both ways: they’re operating as a taxi, they’re operating as a limousine service, and they’re not regulated.” – Tony Norman, co-host of The Taxi Link

The battle over whether and how to regulate luxury sedan services like Uber will take center stage Monday at a public hearing of the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation. 

Ahead of the hearing, the D.C. Taxicab Commission took a major step towards regulating sedans when it published proposed rulemakings that would require sedan companies to do a number of things including only use “a full-sized four-door sedan that is black in color,” no more than five years in age, properly insured and has passed inspection with the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. The taxi commission’s proposed rulemakings would also require sedan companies to maintain a D.C. office, as well as prevent sedans from making street hails and jacking up their prices when demand is high, both practices which Uber engages in.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick responded in a note addressed to the “UberFaithful” which read in part, “The DC Taxi Commission is on the war path again, proposing rules that would essentially put Uber DC out of business.” D.C. Taxicab Commission chairman Ron Linton said Kalanick was overreacting. “I don’t know how they arrive at that conclusion,” Linton told Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post. “There’s nothing in there that shuts them down,” said Linton.

“There is a very organized movement from Uber and its allies to influence the D.C. city council, the Taxicab Commission and the D.C. government in general to [allow them to continue to] be exempt from regulations,” said Haimanot Bizuayehu, board member of The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers, which sponsors The Taxi Link on WUST 1120 AM. “[Monday’s hearing] is very important because Uber is trying to take away our business,” said Negede Abebe, chairman of The Small Business Association. “Uber is having it both ways: they’re operating as a taxi, they’re operating as a limousine service, and they’re not regulated,” said Tony Norman, who co-hosts The Taxi Link along with TheFightBack‘s Pete Tucker.

Also discussed on The Taxi Link was the city’s suspended contract with VeriFone to install so-called smart meters in all 6,500 D.C. cabs. “Can someone please explain the deal with the new smart meters to me? What exactly is the city getting for $35 million?” asked Matt Forman in the opening to his piece in themail at dcwatch.com. “I’ve been to New York City [and] I’ve seen the little TV screens,” Forman told The Taxi Link. “I’m not impressed. I don’t think this notion of uniformity is worth $35 million.”

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh has been a leading proponent of the VeriFone deal, although that may be changing. Last week on NewsChannel 8’s NewsTalk, host Bruce DePuyt asked Cheh, “Do you have confidence in the contract process based on the information that you have about it?” Cheh responded, “Well, you know, I haven’t really followed the particulars of the contract process.” Cheh’s response does not square with her comments from the dais during the D.C. Council’s July vote to approve the VeriFone deal. Cheh, who introduced the bill, fielded questions from her colleagues, including Councilmember Vincent Orange who questioned the use of emergency legislation to push through such a large contract. “It was [competitively bid] and there were eight bidders,” Cheh told Orange.

Related stories:
Taken for a ride: press coverage of D.C.’s taxi industry is unfair to public and drivers, Sept. 16, 2012
Is classism behind D.C.’s push to regulate taxis, not Uber? Sept. 9, 2012

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