The D.C. Council approved legislation to permit and regulate the operation of app-based ridesharing services such as uberX, Lyft and SideCar on Oct. 28. The Public Vehicle-for-hire Innovation Amendment Act, proposed by Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), passed in a 12-to-1 vote.
The bill retained the $1 million dollar insurance minimum for all rides originating in Washington, D.C., as well as yearly vehicle inspections that also apply to taxicabs, reducing the previous twice-yearly inspection requirement.
Additionally, ride-share drivers must be at least 21 and undergo criminal, DUI and traffic background checks from the past seven years, as well as a lifetime sex offender background checks. App-based ride sharing companies now must also register with the D.C. Taxicab Commission, giving the DCTC the power to enforce the regulations.
Because of what they perceived as insufficient regulation, the bill faced dissent from the DCTC and Mayor Vincent Gray, who urged the council to postpone its vote. DCTC Chairman Ron M. Linton expressed resigned acceptance of the bill but approved of its additional safety measures.
“The City Council sets public policy, and administrators have to work with it. There has been some strengthening of the enforceability of the requirements on private vehicles for hire that should improve the protection of public safety,” Linton wrote in an email.
Nevertheless, taxicab drivers’ opposition to the bill has remained steadfast. Drivers protested again outside of the Wilson Building while the council voted on the bill, although the bill does provide concessions to traditional taxi companies, now allowing drivers to live anywhere in Maryland or Virginia in addition to the District. Taxi companies with apps may now also adjust pricing based on specific requests, similar to the “surge pricing” model, or raising prices in situations of high demand, used by Uber and other companies.
Jim Graham(D-Ward 1), the lone councilmember to vote against the bill, maintained that it gives app-based riding services an unfair upper-hand over cab companies.
“For the council to allow self-regulation of these profit-making ventures is indeed like having the fox guard the chicken coop,” Graham said at the Oct. 28 council meeting.
Digital dispatch services uberX and Lyft disagreed, expressing support for the legislation and noting the steps already taken by the companies to ensure customer safety.
UberX released a statement on Wednesday celebrating the passage of the legislation.
“From the beginning, Uber has required extensive background checks, vehicle inspections and top quality insurance coverage. This legislation affirms that responsibility and ensures that uberX is the safest and most reliable way to get around the District,” the press release read.
Lyft Public Policy Communications Manager Chelsea Wilson agreed, also nothing that the service had previously instituted safety regulations of its own
“Safety is Lyft’s top priority,” Wilson wrote in an email. “While safety is often brought up as a reason to apply an old regulatory model to an innovative transportation solution, new technology actually provides an opportunity to increase safety above and beyond what has been done previously.”
Wilson addressed the complaints of taxicab drivers and Councilmember Graham, who fear the increased competition of ride sharing services will overtake the transportation market.
“We don’t see this as a zero sum game. Cities benefit from a diverse range of reliable, affordable and safe transportation alternatives, which all help people depend less on car ownership,” she wrote.
Adam Shinbrot (COL ’18) favored the increased regulations as a way to make him feel safer while using Uber.
“I have used Uber, and during one ride the driver was texting and that made me feel unsafe. I think more regulation of Uber is important. I don’t think Uber should be hiring sex offenders or people who have committed serious crimes because it just puts the public at risk,” he said.
Although he agreed with the benefits of background checks, Mark Vermylen (COL ’18) was uncomfortable with the council’s intervention into private businesses.
“The first time I used Uber was here at Georgetown. I’ve never felt unsafe using it, but I think background checks are a good thing given the amount of trust that is given to the drivers by the company. However, I don’t think these checks should be required by the government,” he said.