Amid efforts by cab drivers in cities across the U.S. to form a national taxi union, local labor groups are focusing on pressuring the D.C. Council to help cabbies stave off competition from the unregulated, on-demand “ridesharing” services UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar.
The Teamsters Local 922 is planning to hold a cab driver rally Wednesday at Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington to call on District legislators to level a playing field where the city’s regulated taxi fleet currently feels at a disadvantage to the innovative newcomers.
“Here in D.C. we have a pretty solid base and we want to stay focused and address all these regulations coming forward now,” said Royale Simms at Local 922, which formed an association with hundreds of independent cabbies last year.
In April, the D.C. Taxicab Commission proposed regulations to strictly regulate UberX, Sidecar, and Lyft, whose drivers usually use their own vehicles to pick up passengers, raising questions about liability insurance gaps. District Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) then proposed more lenient legislation that is favored by the transportation tech companies. The Taxicab Commission and Cheh’s office are working on a final compromise regulatory scheme.
“Uber has been able to use one tactic, and that is pretty much to ignore any regulation that is facing them,” said Simms.
Uber’s position is it is giving consumers the choices they want but cannot obtain from a decrepit taxi industry.
“The cab industry has not changed for forty years. Cab company owners, so-called 'big taxi,' have focused on getting laws passed to limit competition and choice,” Uber spokesman Lane Kasselman said.
“What D.C. is grappling with — and what many communities around the country are dealing with — is ridesharing is not taxi. Uber is not taxi. It’s a completely new industry,” he added.
Compared to other jurisdictions, UberX — Uber’s low-cost alternative to a metered taxicab — has received a warm welcome in Washington. More than a dozen states have issued warnings to “ridesharing” drivers and their customers about possible gaps in insurance coverage.
In Virginia, the Department of Motor Vehicles issued a cease and desist order, saying Uber and Lyft were operating in violation of state law. Uber is defying the order and UberX drivers continue to operate in Virginia.
D.C. cab driver Aleme Tadesse, who did not join the Teamsters' group and has also ignored some of D.C.'s new taxi regulations, said UberX is a threat to the very livelihoods of people like him.
“Because on one side they are trying up our hands,” Tadesse said, referring to the many regulations metered taxicabs must follow in Washington. “On the other side, they allow them to work without regulation,” referring to the “ridesharing” competitors.