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A VIP sedan makes a quick exit from the Capitol as the sun rises, early December 24, 2009 in Washington, DC.  (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images) A VIP sedan makes a quick exit from the Capitol as the sun rises, early December 24, 2009 in Washington, DC. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)  

DC City Council members move against Uber sedan service

Photo of Christopher Bedford
Christopher Bedford
Managing Editor

Members of the Washington, D.C. City Council haven’t given up on their efforts to bring the efficient and reliable luxury sedan-on-call service, Uber, under the authority of the company’s competitors in the taxicab industry.

Council members previously tried to establish a price floor for the company. More recently, at a July 10 meeting, a number of City Council members voted to bring the sedan service under the authority of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, a regulatory body strongly influenced by the taxi industry.

The move was only slowed by four council members – Michael Brown, Tommy Wells, David Catania and Jack Evans — who pushed through an amendment to stay the order for six months, until Jan. 1, 2013.

“I was opposed to them not being regulated, period,” councilman and former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry told The Daily Caller. “This was a compromise. I think if it’s not a regulated service, it really has an impact on the D.C. taxi industry.”

Barry, who remains popular in D.C. and is infamous for not paying taxes on time and for a 1990 sting operation that caught him smoking crack with a prostitute, added, “I’m going to do everything I can to protect the hardworking taxi drivers.”

Uber is not thrilled.

“The long history of corruption with regards to the taxi industry and the District government — including indictments and jail time of city officials — along with our own experience dealing with the agency, makes us take pause,” Uber founder Travis Kalanick told TheDC.

The initial price-floor legislation was scuttled after a quick reaction from Uber and its customer base.

“I don’t think they expected that we would be able to react as quickly as we did,” Kalanick reflected.

“There were 104 million social media impressions in 18 hours because we rallied our user base” with an email warning the night before the vote, which was announced at 4 p.m. the day before it came before the council.

And, Kalanick added, they will activate that base again.

“He [Barry] and I disagree on that,” D.C. council member Brown said of Barry’s efforts to bring Uber under the control of the Taxicab Commission. “I want to make sure it’s a level playing field for all.”

“More than 80 percent of the taxicab drivers do not live in the District of Columbia,” Brown told TheDC, adding that “they take their dollars outside the District of Columbia, and Uber has a different approach to hiring D.C. drivers.”

Brown did not know what percent of Uber drivers live in the District, but he said he was working with the company to determine that.

“It is odd to me,” Brown said, “because Uber has shown a much more proactive approach to going to [economically depressed] parts of the city where cab drivers have traditionally not gone, which includes Councilman Barry’s ward, Ward 8.”

Uber users download a mobile phone application and click a few buttons when they need a car. Within a few minutes, a luxury sedan arrives, announces its presence with a text message, drives to a destination and charges a credit card. It’s more expensive than a cab ride, but comparatively more convenient.