Bills Would Allow Staffers to Take an Uber Instead of a Cab

Seeks to change regulations to allow ride-booking services

Uber and Lyft are popular means of transportation to and from Washington-area airports. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Uber and Lyft are popular means of transportation to and from Washington-area airports. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 11, 2016 at 5:00am

Seven years after Uber rides first hit the scene, a bipartisan group of legislators wants the federal government to catch up.

Before leaving for recess, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee introduced a bill to allow federal government employees to be reimbursed for using ride-booking and bike-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft and Bikeshare. Current regulations predate the rise of these now-popular services — which are sometimes the cheapest alternatives.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who co-sponsored the bill with fellow Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, called it “common sense legislation that ensures the federal government updates its policies to keep pace with innovation and better reflect how people travel today.”

The bill would require the General Services Administration to allow for reimbursement of federal employees traveling on official business who use the new services.

With the launch of Uber Pool and Lyft Line, riders can sometimes get across D.C. for less than $5.

The GSA would be required to report back to Congress whether changing the regulations results in any savings.

“It makes sense for government employees to use the same services as everyday people and it will save the taxpayers dollars,” Cassidy said.

[Senators Take Metro, Too]

The bill passed unanimously in the House on Sept. 22, where it was introduced by Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton along with Republican Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Darrell Issa of California and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and Democrats Eric Swalwell of California and Cheri Bustos of Illinois. 

Moulton said in a press release that the bill would bring “government travel into the 21st century” as it would allow federal employees to be reimbursed for travel whether they’re in D.C. or Massachusetts, his home state.

On Sept. 26, the measure was referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Many staffers are using the new services now to avoid Washington’s troubled Metro transit system, which is in the middle of a systemwide emergency overhaul, known as SafeTrack. 

[How Capitol Hill Will be Affected by Metro Repairs]

During the SafeTrack project, the Metro has seen a decline in ridership and rumors are floating about the Metro Board possibly increasing fares. The last time that happened was in June 2014 when rates went up by about 10 cents a ride.

In July, Meadows and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia introduced a bill to let federal workers apply their tax-free transportation benefits to ride-booking or bike-sharing services instead of Metro.

“By modernizing the way that federal employees travel, this commonsense and bipartisan bill will make the operations of government more efficient, while also ensuring that we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Carper said in a release.