Following an internet campaign that resulted in D.C. Council members receiving "thousands" of calls and emails, Council voted July 10 to approve Councilwoman Mary Cheh's bill to amend taxicab regulations without the portions specifically targeting the popular San Francisco-based sedan company Uber.
The original proposal offered a requirement that Uber charge no less than five times the minimum that a regular cab charges. Uber, which has historically offered rides in black sedans and SUVs, is expanding its fleet to include an UberX service with lower cost hybrids. Uber uses mobile apps to make it easier for people to book rides and get information on how long they'll have to wait. Uber also has an eBay-like rating system for drivers, cars and even passengers.
Cheh withdrew the "Uber amendments" prior to the session.
On the company's blog and through social media, Uber's CEO had repeatedly urged customers to contact council members to oppose the Cheh "Uber Amendments" and support Councilman Jack Evans' amendment to declare Uber "legal" until a more comprehensive review of new rules can be conducted.
For the first several minutes Cheh discusses a bunch of unrelated amendments, mainly dealing with requiring cabs to phase in wheelchair access at an estimated cost of $15,000 - $40,000 per cab through higher fees on passengers and by reducing fees for wheelchair accessible cabs who pick passengers up at Metro stations.
At 9:45, Councilman Jack Evans notes that since Cheh removed her Uber amendments entirely there was ambiguity over whether their service is legal. Evans then offered his own Uber-specific amendment that would make them "legal."
At 12:00 Cheh asks for a "sunset provision" to "signal that this is just a bridge amendment."
Evans asks why?
Cheh complained that Uber raised their rates over the past year and thinks that citizens should be able to complain to council about that.
Evans said he is against a sunset provision since "it puts us back where we are now."
At 14:15 Councilman Marion Barry says Uber is a limousine service. "What this company is doing is having a big dent on DC taxi drivers...with no health benefits, sick leave..."
"How can you have a company that is unregulated?" Barry asked. "I'm a friend of the taxi industry."
At 18:30 Councilman Jim Graham says the taxicab commissioner says that Uber is operating illegally. "We have regulations on taxis. We need regulations on sedans."
At 21:35 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander says Uber needs regulation since they are acting as a "taxi-limo."
At 23:30 Councilman Evans notes he is about to lose and offers his own sunset proposal through the end of the year with the caveat that if council does not act, the sunset would be extended
At 24:45 Councilman David Catania says he has used Uber and calls it "exciting." He asks, "What is the purpose of killing Uber when so many of our residents use it?"
At 27:50 Councilman Vincent Orange says Evans' amendment gives Uber an unfair advantage. Orange appears to suggest that DC doesn't need Uber's dispatch system because the existing companies "already have a dispatch system." Orange adds council should examine "the Uber."
(The video keeps freezing here. I am refreshing and it keeps playing the same loop and freezing again. Ironically, it keeps playing the "examine the Uber" quote.)
At 33:40 the video resumes and Councilwoman Bowser says if Uber is a taxi service it should be regulated as such.
At 34:30 Councilmen Barry and Evans have a little tif.
At 35:30 Councilman Tommy Wells says he likes that you can use a credit card for Uber and that they go to high crime areas some other cabs won't.
At 37:20 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie says he has been getting calls from residents who like Uber but says the UberX service appears to be much like a taxi company.
At 39:00 Councilman Michael Brown (who was once briefly chair of the DC Council committee that held oversight of taxi regulations) says many drivers don't live in DC. "Competition is good," he said. He says "This is a great commercial for Uber!"
At 40:30 Cheh says she may move up the hearing date.
"Competition is good but fair competition is better," Orange says.
At 41:55 the chairman says "Oh God" when a member asks for clarity before the vote.
At 43:00 Councilman Evans notes he has received over 5,000 emails from Uber supporters and that a sunset is necessary since the DC Taxi Commissioner had arrested Uber drivers in the past.
At 45:15 Cheh notes she isn't thrilled with Evans version of the sunset clause.
At 46:50 Evans says her language would make Uber illegal. They get into it a bit. Cheh doesn't want sedans from Virginia and Maryland should be able to drive into the District.
At 49:00 Councilman Orange wants to pull the amendments.
At 50:30 the Evans amendment is called. It passes.
At 51:20 Councilman Barry congratulates Cheh and says the taxi industry needs more regulation. Barry said it once took an hour to get a cab out to his Southeast DC home at 12:30 am.
At 54:00 Barry offers an amendment to force companies to report their revenue monthly.
At 56:00 Barry's amendment passes.
At 56:10 Wells offers an amendment to discuss making GPS data from taxis publicly available and anonymous.
At 58:15 Orange asks about financing of wheelchair access.
At 1:02:45 Orange proposes that no cab company be forced to install wheelchair access until financing and or grants are made available.
Cheh says she'll deal with it later and says Orange's amendment would "kill the bill."
At 1:04:50 Barry says the city needs to make vans wheelchair accessible but "we don't want to financially put these companies out of business."
At 1:10 Catania opposes the amendment and favors requiring cabs to accept non-cash payments. (Odd since it is an unrelated issue.)
At 1:14:00 Bowser opposes the amendment.
At 1:17:30 Chairman Mendelson urges council to vote against the "poison pill" amendment.
The Orange amendment to delay implementation of the wheelchair regulations pending a financing formula fails.
At 1:19:50 Orange offers an amendment to grandfather in existing rear-entry wheelchair accessible vehicles but requires new vehicles to offer side entry.
Cheh opposes for a number of reasons: cost, number of passengers.
Orange clarifies that it is discriminatory to have to enter from the "rear" as opposed to the "side." "We want to be progressive," he says.
At 1:24:05 Barry supports the amendment because his disabled constituents can more easily enter and exit from the side without having to deal with the curb. "Why is it that Metro can do this but [we] can't?"
At 1:25:50 Cheh says her amendment allows both and feels that rear entry is safer and cheaper and that no one is complaining about it.
At 1:29:30 Orange says disabled people feel safer entering from the side.
At 1:33:00 the Orange amendment fails and the Cheh amendment passes.
At 1:34:30 Orange proposes an amendment that would allow passengers in a cab to decide whether a cab can pick up other passengers.
At 1:37:30 the amendment fails 4-8.
At 1:42:00 the bill passes.
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