Washington DC Taxi Protection Racket Tries to Put Uber Out of Business Again

One of my favorite posts last year was Why Taxis Suck and What You Can Do About It.

With protection from competition and fixed pricing, cabs have little incentive to go beyond bare minimum regulatory standards for maintenance. Drivers may not know where they’re going, and in my city usually don’t take electronic forms of payment. Competition solves these things but local taxi regulators are the archetypical example of regulatory capture, protecting incumbents from competition rather than protecting the public.

New York, like many other cities, tried to crack down on Uber as a competitive threat to incumbent interests. But like in so many other cities, customers who love the on-demand car service and taxi app spoke out loudly enough that it was too much of a threat to politicians and so the regulators more or less relented. It seemed like consumers scored a win in Washington DC as well. But once the spotlight dissipated, things changed again.

DC’s Taxi Commission has long been in the pocket of incumbent taxi interests. Top politicos were sentenced last year after an FBI undercover operation.

There’s big money in protecting big cab operators from competition, and it seems that DC hasn’t given up in its fight against Uber.

With regulations passed last week, UberTaxi will disappear on June 1. Additionally, the next set of regulations, just 3 weeks from passage, will ban fuel efficient vehicles from UberBlack, require Uber to hand over massive amounts of data on your rides, and require Uber to jump over regulatory hurdles every year just to exist. These regulations are unprecedented and far more restrictive than Uber has seen in any of the 30 cities that we operate in.

Apparently the DC Taxi Commission is forbidding digital payments to taxis. They propose requiring annual approval of the Uber’s iPhone app (yes, the taxi commission intends to channel Steve Jobs). And perhaps most bizarrely, they are banning Uber from providing access to fuel efficient vehicles.

That’s right — they aren’t mandating the use of fuel efficient vehicles, as some governments are wont to do. They’re actually banning them.

Hopefully public attention hasn’t moved on too much from this issue.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve lived in dc for a while and agree with you 100%. Seriously, I would rather walk 5 miles with three pieces of luggage in the rain than deal with the cabs here. So frustrating.

  2. Thanks Gary for the heads up. I live in the area and can’t believe we need to fight this battle again, but here we go.

  3. As a former DC resident, I find this so infuriating, and…..so typical. Hopefully, this will get the attention it deserves. While I’ve found taxis in DC to be, for the most part, plentiful. They also, for the most part, suck.

  4. I’m sure the taxi commission and union gives a LOT of money to DC politicians.

  5. DC is pouring all of its PR resources into looking young, hip, and tech-friendly. They’ve got to stop saying one thing and doing the other. They’re not going to lure in all this tech investment that they talk about by doing stuff like this.

  6. Love the use of the term “regulatory capture” so true in DC. Building permits, zoning, public space permits that I am so familiar with – all for the benefit of the developers not neighbors, residents & visitors. We travelers always talk about our 1st world problems (no cavier) but DC residents governed by 3rd world bureaucrats & politicos. #fail. & don’t even get me started on Metro. Or the waste in DC govt just cause employees have no awareness. I like Über!

  7. I am using Ubor today (tomorrow) in Lyon on your recommendation….I’ll let you know how it goes…….

  8. Is there any useful action that non-DC residents who are frequent business travelers to DC can take to push back on this? Oversight bodies / media / tourist or business authorities we could email to raise visibility?

  9. I wonder if those mighty high democrat politicians will do anything about this..

  10. The politicians OWN most of the TAXI licenses so of course they are going to do whatever they can to protect their interest!

  11. DC taxis are the worst. Outdated cars, outdated technology, horrible service. I can’t tell you how many times these corrupt taxi drivers used to purposefully charge me the 3 rate (snow rate), a 125% increase in my fare, when there was no snow. Because they illegally charged that rate so much, they got together and decided to just do away with the 3 rate and last summer increased the overall fares for all passengers.

  12. I lived around DC for a long time. They alway looked after the taxi racket (and visa versa I am sure), whether it being fighting meters, credit card use, or whatever. All it has to do is give a dusting of snow to get a surcharge approved,

    They always claim they can’t afford any additional cost or competition. Funny they fight so hard to stay in the business if it’s that bad.

    Polititian looks after the taxis like they look after DCA.

  13. This is what happens in a country which tolerates, even indulges, corrupt (by which I would add pork barrel style corruption to graft) politicians and corrupt government employees. It happens just as much out here in California, so DC is not alone, even if it is the epicenter.

  14. My dislike of the DC Taxicab Commission just grows and grows. Trying to get a cab from DC to Northern Virginia is an exercise in futility. You basically have to jump into the cab before you tell them where you are going so that they can’t say no via the rules. Tell them before you get in…the door handle will be halfway down the block before you realize he’s moved.

  15. My Uber referral link if anyone wants to sign up and get a $10 credit for your first ride:

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