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Uber X drawing D.C. regulators' scrutiny

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Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

Uber, the popular Town-Car service, faces an uphill battle to remain free of D.C. taxi rules, especially as it considers launching a service that would provide even stiffer competition for the city's taxicabs.

The San Francisco-based startup is considering launching Uber X, a service that allows riders to be picked up in hybrid vehicles at fares below the cost of a town car but higher than a taxi's, in the District. Uber X is already available in New York City and San Francisco.

"It's something that we're looking into. We don't have any firm plans right now," said Alex Priest, spokesman for Uber in D.C.

But Uber X could further anger taxi drivers, who protest that the town-car service already undercuts their business. D.C. Council members, who last week agreed to allow Uber to continue operating until the end of the year even though the District had not determined how to regulate it, were more resistant to the idea of Uber X.

"What this company is doing is having a great dent on D.C. taxi drivers," said Councilman Marion Barry of Ward 8. "[We shouldn't] impose another barrier on them making money."

But Uber wants D.C. regulators to leave it alone.

"We'd like to see them let us operate freely," Priest said. "We're a private company that's providing a service people love."

But DC Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton said he envisions a whole new set of regulations to govern companies like Uber.

"We will be preparing and developing a regulation that creates a sedan class" along with taxi and limousine classes, Linton said.

Linton, who participated in a sting operation against Uber earlier this year, said the commission isn't targeting Uber or trying to stifle innovation.

"What we're regulating is the relationship between buyer and sellers so that there is a fair condition that exists between the two," Linton said. "Everybody knows what they're getting. Everybody accepts what they're getting, that it doesn't harm the consumer, that it makes it possible for the seller to make his profit, that it services the community."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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