“DC Council is voting tomorrow to prevent Uber from lowering rates”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Nikoo’s Photos

Thanks to all who forwarded the notice from the Uber car service:

On Independence Day, Uber announced a roll out of a lower cost service that we call UberX. A less expensive Uber option on an all-hybrid fleet. We’re pretty excited about it and think it’s a great idea for cities across the country. What some of you probably noticed is that there was no roll out of this service in the District. That is because, only days earlier, the DC City Council informed us that they intended to pass an amendment to the taxi modernization bill that would make it illegal for Uber to lower its prices or to offer a low cost service in any form.

The Council’s intention is to prevent Uber from being a viable alternative to taxis by enacting a price floor to set Uber’s minimum fare at today’s rates and no less than 5 times a taxi’s minimum fare. Consequently they are handicapping a reliable, high quality transportation alternative so that Uber cannot offer a high quality service at the best possible price. It was hard for us to believe that an elected body would choose to keep prices of a transportation service artificially high – but the goal is essentially to protect a taxi industry that has significant experience in influencing local politicians. They want to make sure there is no viable alternative to a taxi in Washington DC, and so on Tuesday (tomorrow!), the DC City Council is going to formalize that principle into law.

For obvious reasons, Uber is seriously concerned about punitive government intervention in a well functioning marketplace. Because of this we felt it was our responsibility to let our riders know about the issues at hand.

Take Action
If each of us writes or calls our DC Council people, we could make an impact on this law. What are we asking for?

Strike down the MINIMUM FARE language from the Uber Amendment.

Here are the City Council members’ contact info. Call/write as many of them as possible!

Phil Mendelson (Chairman), (202) 724-8064, [email protected]
Mary Cheh, Ward 3, (Chairperson of Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation), (202) 724-8062, [email protected], @marycheh
Michael Brown, at-large, (202) 724-8105, [email protected],
Jim Graham, Ward 1, (202) 724-8181, [email protected], @jimgrahamward1
Jack Evans, Ward 2, (202) 724-8058, [email protected], @jackevansward2
Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, (202) 724-8052, [email protected], @murielbowser
Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5, (202) 724-8028, [email protected], @kenyanmcduffie
Tommy Wells, Ward 6, (202) 724-8072, [email protected], @tommywells
Yvette Alexander, Ward 7, (202) 724-8068, [email protected], @cmyma
Marion Barry, Ward 8, (202) 724-8045, [email protected], @marionbarryjr
David Catania, at-large, (202) 724-7772, [email protected], @cataniapress
Vincent Orange, at-large, (202) 724-8174, [email protected], @vincentorangedc

93 Comment

  • This is beyond outrageous. Any vote for this amendment is a vote against the tax paying citizens of this city (as opposed to the drivers, many of whom do not live here). I am TIRED of our council voting in their best interest (kickbacks and otherwise) and not the citizens of this city.

    • DC gov is in bed with ZipCar and capitol bikeshare, they gave them all the premium DC parking spots/ locations under the table, ignoring and crippling competition, same with cabs, it’s no surprise that you’ve got to pay to play business-wise in this city. Big money always wins. Every time. Without question. No arguing. Final.

      • Well, that’s just plain not true, considering that ZipCar had to pull almost all its vehicles off of street parking when the City and ZipCar failed last year to reach an agreement on new parking costs.


        • Actually it is true.

          From 2006 to 2010, Zipcar, a for profit company got prime onstreet parking in high density commercial neighborhoods for “ahem” free. Zero dollars.

          Then in late 2010, the city (under fire for having given these spaces away for free under the continued direction of Gabe Klein, then head of DDOT, having been a Senior VP at Zipcar previously) started charing a paltry 200 a year.

          After Gabe left the city decided to do the right thing and put them out to auction to the highest bidder, where these same spots went for more than 3000 a space, per year.

      • Do you really think the company that arranges black cars has less “big money” than the bike share company?

  • If one wonders why the cabs in this city are below third world countries then one has to look at tomorrows outcome.

  • clevelanddave

    Somehow this does not sound like the whole picture- just Uber’s perspective. While the arguement that the taxi comission might be trying to protect taxi drivers may be true, DC does have and has promoted alternatives to taxis from a highly developed public transport system to special parking spaces for Zip Cars and other alternatives. POP ought to post a response from a member of council to get a fuller picture of what is going on…

  • bfinpetworth

    I just sent Muriel my letter. I let her know that she would lose my vote if she supported this effort. I agreem with the above statement – this is outrageous.

    On a related note – I just returned from London and was ASTONISHED at how good a taxi service can be. Those London taxis are so excellent, clean, the drivers polite and knowledgeable. Why can’t ours be like that!?

    • clevelanddave

      Wow, aren’t we full of generalizations today. The taxis in Zim are great (I’ll take DC government over Harrare any day) and the ones in London are supurb (you wouldn’t want to pay London rates- how about a fee every time you cross a bridge or a tunnel?). DC has more than its fare/fair (no pun intended) share of crappy taxis and taxi drivers but they aren’t all terrible and the ones in XXX city of your choice aren’t all gems. Besides, most of that arguement has nothing to do with Uber at all.

      • bfinpetworth

        Thus my lead in – “on a related note”. If you’re going to be an ass at least be an accurate ass.

        However, regarding London taxis, I did not find them to be any pricier, and perhaps a little less pricey, than DC taxis. And I choose Uber sometimes over a taxi, even though Uber is more expensive. So yes, I would prefer London quality, even at a higher price. And yes, I do think it is legitimate to wish the taxi system here was as good as City XXX! Why the hell shouldn’t I wish that?!

      • Hey, uh, how about you breathe a bit there, hoss, and stop being an ass to everyone? You asked if there was any other side to the argument, and those links were all I could find–though they do offer SOME perspective on where the City Council is coming from, which is what you asked for, right?

        Speaking of some, you are aware that this word is a qualifier, right? Saying “some” cabs in Zim are better than “some” cabs here doesn’t mean “all.” Sheesh.

        I’d link to the DCist article just posted quoting Cheh as saying that Uber was consulted about this bill, and that she thought they were on board, but you’d probably rip my head off on that, too.

      • Uh, you did intend a pun, methinks.

      • To be fair, I’ve traveled to a lot of transitioning countries where I can hail a cab within 2 minutes on any street of the capital city and the driver is capable of finding my destination without directions. This is simply not the case in DC. Not only is it nigh impossible to hail a cab in this city outside of certain hub areas, but if you call a cab company and ask for a pickup, they will refuse to serve you if you’re not going to an airport. Once you’re in the cab, there’s no GPS and a driver who has no idea where he’s going. The taxi service in this city is embarrassing and does not provide a real transportation alternative for most DC residents. (and makes self-defense advice of “Don’t walk home alone – take a cab!” laughable) Any competition or incentive to change would be very welcome!

      • Have you been to NYC? All the cabs are equal – same colors, turn lights on and off to indicate availability, and all take credit cards. I haven’t been in a bad cab once in NYC, save for a more aggressive driver here or there.

        As for London, I’ve always held them up as a gold standard for cabs and wish DC would do something similar. Again, all cabs look the same, and drivers know how to get to all major points of interest without you having to navigate for them. Drivers there, last I was told, undergo a year of “apprenticeship” before they can be full-fledged cab drivers. They are kind, polite, courteaous and helpful. Trying finding that in a DC driver.

    • I believe in order to be a taxi driver in London, you have to pass a test that shows you know every single street in the city. So it seems there are very high entry barriers to become a taxi driver.

      • That’s correct. Prospective “black cab” drivers in London have to pass The Knowledge, which entails about 18 months of driving into/out of London and the suburbs in order to find the best route from Point A to Point B. Youl see them out on their little mopeds with a clip board attached to the front looking for routes here there and everywhere.

        I wish we had London standards here. You would think that since DC is the Nation’s capital that the cabs here would be held to a higher standard. Since Uber came on the scene, I use them regularly. They may be a bit more expensive, but you get a driver who is polite and who doesn’t sit there driving and gabbing away on his cell phone, and a car that is a pleasure to sit in. I can’t say that about any of the cabs I’ve used in DC.

  • you can pry my uber from my cold dead hands

  • I wrote Jim Graham, but that may prove to be futile.

    • ….umm, yeah, what did his Chief of Staff go to jail for again? Oh yeah, that’s right…..

  • I wrote everyone on the council a litany of reasons why I don’t feel safe or respected in the DC cabs and how great Uber has been. I don’t know if it makes a difference, but I feel better doing something than nothing.

  • this is what happens when you live in a city run by the Federal Government and operated by the left.

    • go away troll

      • although I do not agree with the previous previous comment, as a democrat, I must admit, a vote like this is stupid and harmful. The DC City Council needs to learn how to govern.

  • Maybe once cabs clean their shit up I wouldn’t have a problem with this. However, until I can consistently ride in cabs that aren’t deathtraps, have working A/C, allow me to pay with a credit card, and don’t have shady drivers who try to scam fares, it’s Uber all the way.

    • saf

      You must not live in Petworth. I have never actually managed to get a cab to come here.

      • don’t get me started about cabs in Petworth. Last time we tried to call a cab for our friends they never showed up even though they said it’ll be there in 15min. Two different companies! And they don’t even let you know that the cab isn’t coming. That’s why I gave up on calling a cab in Petworth and take our guests back to their places as much as I can

        • My favorite is when you wait on the cab for an hour and when it never shows, you finally make other arrangements; and then after you’ve left he calls you angry that you’re not still waiting on him!

      • I don’t. I typically take cabs from work (downtown) to other work-related venues (Hill, agencies, etc.), but occasionally use them to get home. I try to avoid them at all costs, esp. since they can be hard to find in my area (Brookland) and/or find a driver who won’t bitch about taking me there. I’ve never had a problem with Uber taking me home/picking me up from my house. They will continue to get my business as long as cabs in this city continue to operate as they are currently.

    • +1 on getting a cab in Petworth.

  • I understand people’s concerns that this seems one-sided. But I will tell you what I know: I am sick and fed up of horrible quality of service and driving of DC cabs. I don’t like how every negotaition with the industry results in higher prices without improvement of service.

    In contrast, the few times I have used Uber, I have loved it. It is convenient and the drivers have all been great. While more expensive than a cab, it certainly is a customer-first business model.

    Then, with this amendment, I can’t help but think of the numerous investigations and reports regarding corruption in the Taxi cab industry. It’s hard not to combine the two, and, to be frank, discount any response that a councilmember may provide.

    Finally, a price floor does not make sense to me. If it were requirements regarding safety or taxing issues, then maybe I could see that there were two sides. I cannot think of any justification for a price floor, but would love to hear from those who might think of one.

  • OK, so let’s look at this:

    DC has 2 legal options for private cars:
    taxi’s (mileage and time based)
    limousines (fixed rate)

    Uber fits neither of these, and so was operating outside of any DC regulation. They were told to stop operating.

    DC changes regulations to allow a 3rd tier of private car operations:
    sedans – which can chargethe time/distance, but have to have a base starting amount – just like cabs have a base startign amount.

    And somehow this is unfair to Uber? They created a new class of operation to fit Uber’s (and the 2 other companies) who are operating this new business model… and it is unfair?


    • Uber was operating in a new and unregulated market. Just because there are not regulations covering a market, it does not automatically make it illegal.

      To that end, the outrage and unfairness is because the regulations recognize the market Uber has created and set an arbitrary price floor. There’s no reason, other than blatant protection of taxis, to set a price floor on a competing service.

      • DC has 2 ways of operating a car-for-hire service. Uber was not operating under a “new” system they just discovered, they were using both the allowed 2 ways of car-for-hire service – which is against regulations. Now there are regulations that allow this sedan based service.

        Taxi cabs have a floor limit – the base amount a taxi can charge begins at a level set by the commission. Why shouldn’t Uber?

        If Uber can operate outside any regulations… why do we have regulations for taxi’s or limo’s at all? Just let the driver and the passenger deal with it. Then we can have 100% gypsy cabs, and 0% consumer regulation.

        • I wish we had zero regulation — would be a big step up. Regulation is simply a means of erecting barrier to entry and protecting the incumbent regime. The only protection I need as a consumer is choice, and Uber gives me more of it. If one company provides crappy service, I’ll go to the next one.

          • You say that until you get in an unregulated cab and get a.) mugged, b.) raped, c.) kidnapped, d.) the driver is drunk/mentally unable to function as a driver, e.) the car is in terrible repair and breaks down, catches on fire, is not safe in an accident.

            If you think taxi cabs should be completely unregulated you need to stop a second and leave your unyielding discipleship to Ron Paul behind.

          • ah

            Anon X – In DC the cabs are regulated and you get those same results. So I’m not sure your argument against deregulation really works.

          • Let’s see: taxis are quite regulated, and they suck. Uber is less regulated, and it’s awesome. And yet deregulation is the enemy.

            Anyway, your examples are ridiculous. A) what’s to stop that from happening now? B) why would a patronize a taxi company that has drivers drivers, broken down cars, etc? That’s a great way to put yourself out of business.

            The best regulation is compeition, which the DC council is doing its best to squelch. Anything that stands between competition and consumers — such as the DC taxi commission — needs to go.

          • I’m all for Uber and I think they should have to play by the same rules as taxis (not special ones tailored to screw them).

            Unlike many of you, I just think there should be rules.

            If this stuff is happening (albeit rarely) in a regulated market (though I would argue its largely unregulated due to corruption/incompetence), it would only be worse without regulations. The market doesnt act with the exactitude that you seem to think. In the absence of any regulation, the only thing that would stop bad actors is a.) being caught by the law and b.) somehow being put out of business (as if you can tell from one cab to the next who the bad actor is) by the market. Remember, no regulation means no special licensing, no numbering, no nothing. I dont want to live in a city that the cabs have become so bad that everyone has to take public transit or walk in order to affect change. I just want a well functioning regulatory agency, which we currently do not have.

            The demand characteristics of cabs in DC indicate to me that availability trumps all other considerations in the marketplace. Demand doesnt decrease with supply nor does it decrease when the price increases.

            Stringent safety and consumer protection regulations that are fairly and consistently enforced on taxis and uber is the answer. Let them compete, but competing with both services having no regulations is chaos.

          • “as if you can tell from one cab to the next who the bad actor is”

            Under a deregulated market taxis would have an incentive to use brands and advertisting to differentiate themselves.

            The DC-NY bus route is unregulated (in that there is no Bus Commission) and yet it works awesome. Companies compete, and consumers benefit. This reality obliberates your scaremongering that is rooted in nothing more than a fevered imagination.

          • If my scare mongering is rooted in imagination, yours is rooted in a total lack of information.

            A.) Taxis wouldnt be incentivized to market at all. Most of their business comes from a first come, first serve model. Therefore, if they’re a cab, they get hailed. No one is going to forego a cab because it looks “rapey”.

            B.) Your comparison to DC-NY buses is laughable. They’re regulated and several dozen providers were recently shut down because they were unsafe. But, since you went out of you way to try to prove me wrong – lets take your example a bit further. These companies were WILDLY successful despite the fact that they spontaneously combusted, killed people in accidents, and subverted the system to avoid inspections. Fortunately, due to regulations the government was allowed to step in and OMG DISRUPT THE FREE MARKET and shut these fools down where the market had failed to do so.

            Thanks for the example, it works perfectly.

        • Uh, the difference is that the taxi drivers lobby to raise fares for taxis so that they can make more money.

          Uber wants to offer a service for less than the amendment would allow it to.

          Not the same situation at all.

    • you are obviously a taxi driver, or married to a taxi driver, or on the payroll of a taxi driver. there is absolutely not a single freakin’ soul in this entire town who’d defend the taxi system and argue against lower uber fares — other than people hoping to protect artifically inflated taxi prices.

    • yeah, they created a new class and set the price a five times the competition. So, yea, it is unfair. Governments should never set price floors.

  • This is outrageous. Will aim to e-mail the relevant councilmembers.

  • Taxi’s are great, I use them from time to time. But with any product, they should be able to compete and rise up to the level that private industry provides. This amendment is ridiculous. As a biased bonus, as a bike I can’t say I’ve ever been turned into or cut off by a car service/uber. Taxi’s like to play real life frogger with me on a daily basis.

    Also someone put together a change.org petition. http://www.change.org/petitions/state-sen-phil-mendelson-strike-down-the-minimum-fare-language-from-the-uber-amendment#

  • The fact is that the taxicab industry is unwilling, and frankly unable, to compete in the marketplace. They have a stranglehold on city government (see how challenging it was to get a gas surcharge reduce or modernize the fleet) and outside competition should be allowed to flourish. As someone who can afford Uber, I would like to make the personal choice to use the service of my choosing.

  • This is actually a huge victory for Uber in that the DC Council is tacitly recognizing the legality of their business model under a new class of regulation. The spinsters at Uber are disingenuously attacking this because it contains one provision they don’t want (the minimum rate amendement) and several they do. The amendment is not nearly as worrisome as people think (you already pay $3 for getting into a cab, now you’ll pay $15 for getting into an Uber).

    Uber stokes the flames of their user base, who buys into their propaganda wholesale without giving one ounce of critical thinking for themselves and is now likely harassing the DC City Council.

    • It’s not a new class of regulation. The old taxi code created the sedan class. This one just adds more regulations for sedans, pretty much explicitly designed to make Uber less competitive

    • Has anyone tried to get a cab on a Fri or Sat night to go north of Columbia Heights? You have to bribe them with extra cash to get them to make the trip. Uber is the only way I can get home after metro closes. Until DC regulates cabs to take me home, UBER gets my vote.

      • Get in the cab before you say where you are going. It is illegal for them to refuse a ride based on destination in the District. You could also just note their license and report them, don’t know how much good that will do.

        • Unfortunately, cabbies often lock their doors and ask where you’re going while you’re outside the cab. Even if they don’t do that, getting their info when they tell you they won’t go where you want doesn’t help you at that moment and is extremely aggravating.

    • Took me a minute to realize that by “spinsters” you meant “people spinning the story,” as opposed to “old maids.”

  • between bikeshare/buses/metro, this just doesn’t matter

  • here’s the deal, you don’t need articles to explain “the other side.” just step on to the street and hail a cab. highly likely it will be a vintage model with barely functioning or non-functioning a/c and a driver who spends his time talking on the phone and takes to SE instead of NE. i like antique cars, but no one wants them as cabs on the streets.
    not all of them are like this, but far too many are.
    i got into a cab last week and the driver told me his a/c doesn’t work when the temps go above 84 degrees.
    the DC council should do what it can to allow competition to make these drivers either improve their service, or get out.
    that’s a lot to ask of elected officials because cabbies like to brag how they got Fenty out of office by cabbing voters to the polls to vote Gray and politicians probably believe it’s the same fate that awaits them.
    you don’t have to take Uber. no one is forced to. you don’t even have to buy their “side of the story.”
    but it would benefit us all if the DC cab industry gets some competition that FORCES them to improve. cause all of the recent years of complaints, and effort to change the industry have resulted in little improvement of service.
    that’s the side of the story anyone can understand.

  • This is communism, pure and simple. Its not liberal or conservative, its communist. We need a new council if this passes. I hope uber sues, as it is definitely unconstitutional.

    • It’s not unconstitutional. It may blow and blow hard for that matter. The motivation to set a price floor or oppose one, no matter how pro or con for the consumer, may come from some backyard handshakes (and then some) but it is not unconstitutional. It may not be a good decision, it may be surprising, it may have lots of opposition but the government can do that.

  • This is why we can’t have nice things . . .

  • I am not sure why everyone is surprised by this. Vote for a liberal democrat city council, and you get more Government regulations, such as this, versus free markets. Everyone in DC who voted for this city council should be pleased. This is very similar to a recent case in Portland:


    A great Ronald Reagan quote in this article, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” BTW, the Portland case is currently in litigation.

    I highly doubt everyone calling and writing the city council will do any good. If you don’t like these type of policies then vote them out of office and vote for candidates that oppose such policies. Until that happens, expect more of the same.

  • How do taxi drivers have so much influence in this town? There has to be a story here. Was the Ted Loza thing just the tip of the iceberg?

  • ANytime a government sets a price floor, consumers should be very suspicious. Add that to our corrupt government and history of bribery by the taxi industry, and we should be doubly so. FIVE times cab rates? Seriously????

  • Allison

    E-mailed my brand new councilman.

    • I have done the same. I am counting on McDuffie to rise above the corrupt nonsense that breeds within the DC gov, esp. the council.

  • I have no idea what Uber is but if it gets cab-like service to parts of the city where cabs pretty much never roam and rarely show up in response to a call – i.e., Petworth – and gets cab-like service to people cabs won’t stop for when hailed, I’m all for it.

  • orderedchaos

    My email to them, in case you want to crib parts of it:

    Hello Councilmembers,

    Please strike down the Uber minimum fare language! It is a blemish on an otherwise excellent bill.

    My wife and I have tried calling taxi companies in DC many times. Often we get a busy signal, or a recording that they are too busy to assist. Sometimes we get a real person, who then says they’re too busy and to try calling again later.

    Now we frequently use cabs that we flag down on the street, and the service is usually quite good. But that doesn’t help when you’re in an area or at a time of day when there are no cabs around — and when no taxi dispatcher will take your call.

    Uber is the only viable, already-existing alternative to DC’s overburdened taxi service when scheduling a pick-up.

    Please don’t make us pay more for Uber just to protect a taxi commission that is unable to provide baseline service to those in need of scheduling a taxi.

    Put your constituents first!

    Thank you,

  • Question for clarity. Is this amendment to oppose all of Uber or just UberX, which is supposed to be a cheaper, non-sedan fleet that would be in direct competition with DC taxis. From the responses below it seems that Uber and UberX are used interchangeably and I thought the issue was specific to UberX.

  • What time is the vote?

    I sent off a quick e-mail because I had to run to a meeting, but if the vote isn’t until the afternoon, maybe I should follow up with a more detailed one.

  • Having now reviewed this amendment, I think it’s ridiculous.
    The stated rationale is:
    These requirements would ensure that sedan service is a premium class of service with a substantially higher cost that does not directly compete with or undercut taxicab service.
    Why should “sedan services” like Uber only be for people who can afford to pay substantially more than what a cab costs? Anyone who can’t pay the premium just has to suck it up and deal with bad or non-existent cab service?

  • Im sure Graham et al have some envelopes full of cash that might explain their votes. How the eff is Graham not under indictment for the MANY shenanigans he has pulled over the years?

  • Hey, forgive me the shameless plug, but my law firm, Talos Law, is trying to do something about the DC cab situation. Posted about it on reddit here: http://www.reddit.com/r/washingtondc/comments/tq3vf/rdc_i_want_to_clean_up_the_dc_cab_industry_and_i/ . I need people who have had bad experiences with cabs to make this work, so check out the post if you want to help. Thanks.

  • Happy update from the Post:

    [UPDATE, 10:50 A.M.: Cheh said she will not be offering the Uber price-floor amendment, pending a hearing later this year.]

  • I live in 16th Street Heights and I have never had a problem with a cab refusing to take me home. Additionally, every single time that I have called yellow cab to come and pick me up at my home they have arrived on time. I hope I didn’t just jinx myself!

  • Prince Of Petworth

    Update from CM Jack Evans:

    “Councilmember Evans today introduced an amendment to the taxi
    modernization bill which explicitly allows Uber to continue to operate legally in the District without newly proposed price controls. The amendment wasco-sponsored by Councilmembers Brown, Catania, and Wells. The measure passed.

    “The Council must do all it can to support alternative transportation options in the District,” said Evans. “Uber offers an innovative service to all areas of the city, including those often underserved, and we should encourage and support them. It is also important to study the full landscape of transportation options, including taxis, and I am pleased that Councilmember Cheh is planning an additional hearing in the fall.”

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