For those living in bustling urban centers, the ability to call a car to one’s location with nothing more than a few taps on a touchscreen sounds like a little slice of heaven. It’s certainly a step above chasing down cabs and battling other harried urbanites to hop inside (or worse, taking public transportation in the middle of the night). Even better, the trip will automatically be charged to the card you have on your account, so you never have to worry about whether you have enough cash on hand to pay for the ride home. You’ll be picked up by a “stylish” private car and the cost of your trip is often a flat rate rather than a per-mile charge, which can sometimes end up costing less. In short, the service provided by the Uber app (created by San Francisco startup Uber Technologies, Inc.) is pretty awesome, especially for those living in or traveling to big cities. But it seems that some legislators in Washington, D.C. are none too pleased.
The whole affair started with a sting operation in January that was led by the City Taxi Commission chairman, Ron Linton. Unsurprisingly, cab companies are a bit miffed with Uber, which provides a more convenient way for urbanites in search of a ride to get the service they’re seeking, often at a lower price than taxis or other car services offer. So basically, the cab companies are upset that they didn’t think of it first…well, that and that they’re losing fares. So they mounted a sting operation to catch these drivers in the act of…well…performing as both a limousine and a cab service, a position that Linton says is “breaking the rules”.
The result was that a driver connected to the Uber app (they contract with all kinds of car services in urban areas to make sure that available drivers nearest a pickup location are prompted to arrive expediently) received a ticket, the Taxi Commission made a big stink, and then the city council jumped into the mix with legislation that would virtually stop the service from operating in the District of Columbia. One legislative amendment, proposed by council member Mary Cheh, would have had these car services setting flat rates at nearly five times as much as the cost of the average ride, essentially preventing Uber from carrying out their business in D.C. But Uber CEO Travis Kalanick wasn’t about to take it sitting down, and neither were his satisfied customers in the D.C. area.
He launched an online campaign to persuade patrons of the app to chime in and sign a petition, as well as send emails to the city council. And it seems that loyal Uber customers turned out en masse, sending thousands of emails to council members over the course of about 18 hours to protest the legislation set forth by Cheh. They were under more paperwork than an Atlanta motorcycle accident lawyer! The result is a decided victory for Uber. It has been determined that they will be exempt from regulation for the rest of this year (at which time the situation will be revisited), provided they offer customers an up-front estimate, appraise them of the method used to calculate the fare, and then offer a receipt when the trip is complete. They must also use only licensed car services. All in all, the outcome was excellent news for Uber, their customers, and the democratic process.
Thanks to Evan Fischer for this guest post. He is a freelance writer and part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.