Taxi drivers lost a fight against for-hire ride services Tuesday, when the D.C. Council passed a bill that Uber says “provides a permanent home for UberX in the District.”
The company, which in August hired President Barack Obama’s former political strategist David Plouffe to run its political and public relations operations, praised D.C. for passing the legislation. It mandates county, federal and multi-state background checks on drivers going back seven years, $1 million primary insurance coverage from the moment a driver accepts a request and annual vehicle safety inspections by a certified mechanic. Uber said in a blog post that the bill makes D.C. a “trailblazer in the transportation industry.”
Hundreds of local taxi drivers, organized by Teamsters Local 922, planned a rolling protest around Freedom Plaza to show their opposition to the measure. They say it fails to create a level playing field with the private sedan services, who are costing the cab drivers business. A similar honking armada surrounded Capitol Hill in June.
The bill underwent some big changes as it worked its way through the council, including a name change. Lawmakers said calling the services “ridesharing” conflates them with carpooling, and other modes of transportation meant to defray costs associated with vehicle ownership or commuting. Instead of that term of art, the District opted for “private vehicle-for-hire” services.
Under the legislation, Uber, Lyft and other companies would have to comply with fare transparency provisions, like traditional taxis. The company must disclose its calculation method and applicable rates being charged, as well as offering to estimate fare. Additionally, the bill protects passengers’ pocketbooks in situations like Snowmageddon. When the mayor declares a state of emergency, the drivers are prohibited from setting exorbitant fares.
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