The D.C. Council will consider legislation to regulate ridesharing services such as UberX, Sidecar and Lyft. The bill, proposed by Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and co-sponsored by Councilmember David Gross (I-At Large) after the matter was put on hold in May, received initial approval last week and is pending a final vote.
The legislation would require UberX, Sidecar and Lyft to provide a minimum of $1 million insurance for accidents occurring from the time a driver accepts a call until the passenger exits the vehicle. The companies would also be required to submit 1 percent of their gross receipts for trips that begin in the District to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
The legislation also calls for yearly inspections of UberX, Sidecar and Lyft cars and would reduce twice-yearly inspection requirements for cabs to a matching standard of annual inspections. Drivers for ride-sharing services would also be required to agree to criminal background checks and be barred from accepting street hails.
Uber responded positively to the legislation and noted that it already complied with many of the regulations.
“The bottom line is Uber has set a new standard for safety and quality,” Uber spokesperson Taylor Bennett wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our industry-leading background checks, $1 [million] commercial liability insurance, and an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability built into the app, make Uber the safest and most reliable ride on the road.”
D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton said that the legislation, by legitimizing the services of Uber, did not go far enough in establishing restrictions on the ride-sharing services.
“I believe the legislation would create a situation that anyone who uses the service being established endangers their personal safety and puts themselves at risk for consumer fraud. DCTC will fulfill our responsibility to rigorously enforce against illegal street hails,” Linton wrote in an email.
Digital dispatch services have become increasingly popular in Washington, D.C., creating competition for cab drivers and the DCTC. Cab drivers, who have called for limited hours for Uber drivers, protested Wednesday by blocking traffic and honking horns between 14th Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue.
“You don’t have a level playing field. You have Uber and other companies coming into this market policing themselves,” Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who opposes the legislation, said to WUSA9 reporters during the protest.
Bennett disagreed with the criticism, claiming that Uber simply provides an innovative service for D.C.’s population.
“We believe that adding an additional option like Uber to the transportation ecosystem creates a larger pie — it doesn’t limit the slice of the pie for current players. More choice in a city’s transportation ecosystem is better for everyone, including riders and drivers,” Bennett wrote.
Cheh agreed that the rise of Uber and similar companies was not directly comparable to the existing taxi services.
“They are entirely different models and require different regimes of regulation. That’s what seems to be lost in part of this debate,” Cheh told WUSA9.
Rachel Chun (MSB ’16) frequently uses Uber and noted that for college students, convenience remains the priority when choosing between taking a taxi cab or an Uber.
“We [college students] are not paying as much and our waiting time for the Uber cars are definitely less than cabs, and they’re nicer, better quality of service. As a college student, I would like to take more advantage of it than worry about the competition,” she said.
Contrary to Linton’s concerns about safety, Jisoo Kim (COL ’16) said she feels safer using Uber rather than traditional taxicabs.
“I actually feel safer with Uber than with random [taxicab] drivers … because it’s a company booked through online, I think Uber now has a reputation where if they do something wrong … their reputation will suffer,” she said. “There are a lot of taxi companies out there, some of them are reliable, some are not.”