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Council upgrades cabs, leaves Uber alone for now

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Photo - D.C. taxi drivers protest outside the John A. Wilson building over the overhaul to the city's cabs. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
D.C. taxi drivers protest outside the John A. Wilson building over the overhaul to the city's cabs. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

District cabs will be required to accept credit cards and use GPS navigation under legislation approved by the D.C. Council Tuesday.

Lawmakers, however, put off a decision on how to regulate Uber, a popular town car service District officials claim has been operating illegally.

Cab drivers protested outside the John A. Wilson building while council decided the fate of a bill that promised to modernize the city's cabs.

Lawmakers dropped a proposal that would have required every city cab to be the same color, citing drivers' concerns about the cost of new paint jobs. The law now requires only future cabs to be the same color, though it doesn't specify what color. Current cabs will not change.

Passengers will pay for many of the upgrades through a 50 cent surcharge that is in addition to a recent fare increase. Drivers will pay for new cruising lights, and the city will underwrite the $35 million bill for "smart meters" that allow credit and debit card transactions.

Councilman Vincent Orange, D-at large, was the bill's lone opponent, saying it didn't adequately protect cab drivers.

"I do believe this bill has left the D.C. taxicab drivers out," he said. "A lot of them have been driving for 10, 15, 20 years, and they leave here today with no more protections."

Cab rider and activist Rose Previte welcomed the changes, but said she wished the council would provide even more oversight on cabs.

"I think the [bill] is a great step in the right direction," she said. "But we're still finding drivers who steal from riders, especially tourists."

Council delayed a final decision on how to regulate town car services like Uber, which doesn't fit under existing rules for taxis or limousines. The services will be allowed to continue operating until the end of the year, giving council time to decide.

The city's cab drivers claim Uber provides unfair competition. But thousands of supporters of the car service have inundated council members with tweets and emails in support of Uber.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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