New bill would shield Uber from regulation

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

The town car reservation service Uber could finally be free from its legal tangles in D.C. under a retooled proposal from Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh that's set to hit a District council committee Friday and the full council later this month.

The bill would make Uber and similar services that run off of smartphone apps largely off-limits for District regulators. The service would have to heed safety regulations, provide receipts and advance estimates of fares. It would also have to submit trip data to the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

The bill would largely shelter Uber from the regulations that some city officials and the taxi industry want to see imposed. In the past the District regulated only taxis and limousines, but Uber didn't fit either category.

"Through this legislation, we can support innovation in the public vehicle-for-hire industry by decreasing regulation and encouraging competition, which will ultimately improve the quality and reliability of service for District residents," Cheh said in a memo to colleagues.

The proposal doesn't sit well with cab drivers, especially dispatch services, who feel Uber and similar services are poaching their customers. Roy Spooner of Yellow Cab Company of D.C. said exempting those services from regulation was unfair.

"When the day is done we transport people who pay cash, who don't have smartphones -- we are charged with that responsibility. And yet you tell other people who are using this elite and exclusive service that you really don't have to worry about regulation," Spooner said. "How is that in any sense fair to the companies who have been established?"

Spooner said his dispatch company has seen about a 15 percent drop in calls since Uber launched.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said that his company benefits riders and drivers.

"There's a difference between the taxi industry and taxi drivers," he said. "What Uber is enabling is an alternative way for drivers to make a far better living. And that becomes a great option for taxi drivers as they look at what their options are to make ends meet."

The Uber bill comes after the council earlier this year passed legislation updating the city's rules for cabs, including requiring them to have credit card machines and GPS navigation devices. The law also requires all new cabs to be the same color, but that color has not yet been chosen. A display of the color options in front of Union Station was set for Nov. 1, to give the public a chance to weigh in, but a taxicab commission spokesman told The Washington Examiner Tuesday the display will be delayed until December.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Essley

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner