Beltway Confidential

DC government deals blow to Uber, consumers

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Beltway Confidential,Transportation,Washington,Ashe Schow,Analysis

Taking a cab in Washington will continue to be a frustrating experience more often than it should, thanks to the District of Columbia Taxi Commission.

The DCTC approved new regulations Monday that restrict consumer choice. Critics believe the regulations are intended to prevent UberX from serving customers in the District.

Uber, the popular limo service that allows customers to order a sedan or SUV from an app on their smartphones, launched UberX as a way to compete more directly with traditional taxis.

UberX allowed customers to order a cab the same way they ordered a regular Uber ride, but at less cost than a cab ride.

For instance, a four-mile trip with UberX would cost $10, but a standard taxi would cost $11.37, according to Reason Magazine. Uber responded to the new regulations on its blog, claiming DCTC Chairman Ron Linton seeks to crush competition.

“During today’s hearing, Commission Chairman Ron Linton argued that allowing consumers to use Uber to arrange transportation using more affordable, more efficient vehicles like a Toyota Camry Hybrid would represent unfair competition to traditional taxi service,” Uber wrote on its blog.

“He calls it unfair competition; we call it cheaper and better rides for the people who live, work, and play in and around D.C.”

The Federal Trade Commission warned DCTC about restricting UberX, writing in June that DCTC should avoid unwarranted regulatory restrictions on competition, and that any regulations should be no broader than necessary to address legitimate public safety and consumer protection concerns.

“For example, regarding a proposal to restrict how software applications can affiliate with taxicab operators, the comments recommend that DCTC allow for flexibility and experimentation and avoid unnecessarily limiting how consumers can obtain taxis.”

It appears DCTC chose to ignore the FTC.

Not all D.C. council members were on board with the decision. Councilwoman Mary Cheh wrote a letter to Linton and the D.C. commissioners that the regulations imposed by DCTC “discourage customer choice.”

She also wrote that the regulations create an “anti-competitive atmosphere” and “do not serve the goal of protecting consumers.”

This is not the first time Uber has run into opposition. In cities across the country, taxi commissions have tried to use the power of government to squash innovation at the expense of consumers.

Uber has been fighting to exist for years now, and says that it does “not plan to take this lying down.”

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