MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." With the start of the school year upon us, today our show is all about learning. In just a bit we'll hear whey the sluggish economy is driving people to acting classes, and how a local club is teaching people public speaking and political persuading. But first, we'll do a bit of learning on cabs, credit cards, bike lanes and bureaucrats in our regular transportation segment, From A to B.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
WAMU transportation Martin Di Caro is here, with our monthly look at how we get around town. Hi, Martin.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
All right. So, Martin, let's start here in D.C., with the continuing dispute between the tech company Uber and the D.C. taxicab commission. Now, I understand Uber's new service, UberX, is already in trouble.
Yes, you're right. Uber is a startup that allows you to use a smartphone app to hail a vehicle for hire. So you don't hail these on the street. You use your smart phone. And the problems the district keeps having with Uber exemplify the challenges posed by the changing face of personal transportation here in Washington.
As more innovative consumer choices come online, the more regulators believe they have to protect consumers. Or, as critics would say, protect the city's regulated metered taxicab fleet from unregulated competitors. So in the case of UberX, the taxicab commission said the hybrid mid-sized sedans its drivers were using were not large enough to comply with sedan regulations.
But why does the size of the vehicle even matter?
Well, the standard for sedan size, the DCTC use, 95 cubic feet, comes from the Environmental Protection Agency. So the DCTC effectively banned UberX, by ruling its hybrid vehicles were not in compliance. Here's commission chairman Ron Linton.
MR. RON LINTON
There is no reason Uber can't comply with present regulations, as others are doing, other than Uber's desire to use unregulated vehicles to compete against the same vehicles operating as regulated taxis.
But I thought UberX used sedans, not smaller taxis.
Yes. Uber says their cars are sedans, but they are really designed to compete with the regular taxis by offering similar fares, and that's why regulators stepped in.
Okay. Okay. So I'm guessing, though, that's not the end of the story.
No. When it comes to Uber, the story never ends. There is more. Councilmember Mary Cheh is going to introduce legislation to resolve this fight.
MS. MARY CHEH
The legislation will, in effect, nullify the commission's rules that would say that they can't use certain kinds of vehicles.
And she hopes to introduce that bill when the council reconvenes next month.
So Martin, staying with cabs for just a moment, it seems one reason people like businesses such as Uber is they can pay with credit cards. When are regular D.C. taxicabs going to finally start accepting credit cards, too?
So there are 6500 cabs in the District of Columbia. They were all supposed to begin accepting credit cards right now. However, more than 4,000 of them requested a one-month extension to the end of September. Now, the reasons are logistical, technical, financial, but in the end, too many cabbies were just struggling to meet this deadline. So the DCTC set up a system to give some of them an extra 30 days.
Well, while we're talking about delays, this shift to Virginia, where it seems more than a few residents would like to permanently delay the Bi-County Parkway project in Prince William and Loudoun. Martin, you've also done reporting, though, on the people who support the parkway plan. Can you tell us about them?
Well, the question I sought to answer was, who is making the most important transportation decisions in the state? Right? How does a plan like the Bi-County Parkway get to the point where it'll either be approved or sent away? And I looked at the Commonwealth Transportation Board. No major project gets built unless the CTB, as it's called, supports it.
And what kind of people do you find on the CTB?
Real estate developers, bankers, financiers, not many engineers or transportation policy experts. The CTB's Northern Virginia representative is Gary Garczynski. He's a nationally known homebuilder who supports the Bi-County Parkway. And I asked him what qualifications he has to be on the CTB.
MR. GARY GARCZYNSKI
I would like to think that my appointment was a reflection of the fact that for 35 years I've been in Northern Virginia developing properties.
But he's a developer, right? So I'm assuming some people say he's actually part of the problem.
Well, opponents of the Bi-County Parkway say when you have developers making these decisions you get highways built that help developers, not commuters.
Well, if we look, then, at the timeline of this increasingly controversial road, when is it supposed to be built?
There is no answer to that question now. It'll probably be up to the next governor to either push the project or let it die.
All right, Martin. Let's move away from highways and turn to bikeways. What's the latest with bike lanes here in D.C.?
Well, I reported recently that the M Street Cycle Track will be built by the District Department of Transportation, three months late, at some point this fall. But the real controversy here involves an historic black church on M, between 15th and 16th Streets, the Metropolitan Washington AME church. It convinced DDOT to change the cycle track's design so the large congregation would not lose its parking or a car lane. Ronald Braxton is the pastor.
REV. RONALD BRAXTON
I think some have reduced the whole issue to parking. And the issue is larger than parking. To lose a travel lane, you cannot imagine what it would -- and it would also be detrimental to pedestrians.
So DDOT's changes turned a protected cycle track into a regular bike lane that'll run right next to traffic.
And how do bicycling advocates feel about that?
They're not happy. Here's Martin Moulton, he's on the board of directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
MR. MARTIN MOULTON
I think the church has the same interest that WABA does in making sure that people are safe when biking down this corridor near their church. They have their needs, but I think there's a public safety need that they have not really acknowledged at this point.
The Gray administration has indicated it'll not push DDOT to change the cycle track back to the original design. It's really a no-win for the mayor's office, getting involved in a fight between a local lobbying group and an historic church.
Well, Martin Di Caro, thank you so much for keeping us up to speed on what's happening in transportation around the region.
Thanks, Rebecca. It's my pleasure.
And if you have a transportation topic you'd like us to explore, let us know.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro. You can also follow Martin Di Caro on Twitter. What is your handle, Martin?
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