On my penultimate trip to D.C., it took far longer to find a cab to Dulles than I anticipated. Once I flagged one down, I thought the stress of the mad dash was essentially over. I was wrong. About a mile away from the airport, I asked my driver if he accepted credit cards, as I couldn't cover the fee in cash. Much to the surprise of few in Washington, the gruff cabbie said "no," that he did not take credit cards. He did, however, offer me one option, which felt more like an ultimatum. I could get out of the taxi, shuffle down a flight of stairs, bank left and use an inconveniently-placed ATM. After withdrawing my cash, I could sprint back to the car and exchange my money for my luggage. What a deal.
On my last trip to Washington, I had learned my lesson. Two lessons, actually. The first was to carve out time for an anticipatory trip to the ATM. The second lesson was to download the Uber app on my smartphone.
Uber, a San Francisco-based business operating in multiple cities nationwide, is disrupting the transportation world. Their application combines mobile technology with the taxi and sedan industry. No more fighting for a cab. No more wondering if it'll show up. No more anonymous drivers, no more weird back seat odors, and no more mad dashes to the cash machine. Through the push of a few buttons on my iPhone, I can "hail" a car, see a picture of the driver and their name, license plate number, phone number and watch the car hop across the map toward my location, evoking fond memories of Space Invaders. I can also see the driver's consumer rating (I prefer five stars, but will accept less in a pinch).
This mobile app changed my life in its own unique way, while providing valuable insight into what Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said before the DC's City Council. "Our technology is enabling a better way of life for tens of thousands of the District's residents and making the city a shining example of innovation and progress."
Despite the accolades, Uber isn't breathing easy. The District's Taxicab Commission and City Council, according to Kalanick, are on a "crusade to shutdown Uber's business." Rachel Holt, Uber's DC General Manager, said the District's Taxicab Commission is proposing "some less than 21st Century ideas" that don't mesh with the technological advances made by Uber and its competitors.
Uber's story presents a golden opportunity for government and business to work together toward common sense solutions that encourage innovation and progress. Regulators have an opportunity to be facilitators of new ideas and opportunities. If the District of Columbia's regulators, and their counterparts around the country, embrace the facilitator role, they will play an important role in growing the economy while avoiding the neutering of a nascent industry created by tech innovators such as Kalanick. And unprepared people just like me won't have to revert to sprinting to airport cash machines.
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