Uber just won a showdown in Washington, D.C., one of the many cities where the traditional taxi and livery industry has revolted against the smartphone-native newcomer. After a drawn-out fight, the City Council unanimously passed the "Public Vehicle-for-Hire Innovation Amendment Act" this afternoon, which explicitly sanctions and regulates "digital dispatch" companies like Uber.
Uber's opponents in DC and other cities objected to the maverick startup, saying its unconventional business model posed a danger to consumers with policies like demand-based "surge pricing," which caused rates to soar after Hurricane Sandy in New York.
Uber has been taking a lot of heat lately
The DC legislation will force Uber and other digital dispatch companies to comply with certain requirements, like giving users the option to order a wheelchair-accessible car or see fare estimates. The legislation also says that the Commission can only assert power over digital dispatch companies when "necessary for the safety of customers and drivers, consumer protection, or the collection of non-personal trip data information."
Uber has been taking a lot of heat lately. The Silicon Valley-funded startup recently had to yank its taxi service in New York City after regulators took a hard line. The company is also facing lawsuits filed in San Francisco and Chicago, as well as a $20,000 penalty from the California Public Utilities Commission, which dinged Uber and a few similar companies for operating without a license. PandoDaily's Paul Carr even gave the startup a high profile thrashing.
"The really powerful part of this is that it shows that DC is basically leading the charge in embracing this legislation and sort of setting the standard for how other cities should be looking at this innovation," Uber founder Travis Kalanick said on a phone press conference this afternoon.
Uber has been at the front of the fight for new rules in the taxi and livery industry, with a pod of less-confrontational competitors such as Hailo and Get Taxi following in its wake. The win in Washington, DC is a very welcome victory, and one that Kalanick hopes will be repeated in other cities. Being a trailblazer could backfire, however, since Uber is also clearing the way for its competitors to move into the market.