D.C. regulators say smartphone-based car services are essentially meterless taxis — and they are preparing to unveil a slew of proposals designed to close liability insurance gaps and limit drivers’ hours on the road.
New regulations to focus on insurance, hours
On April 9, the D.C. Taxicab Commission is expected to propose measures creating the regulatory category of private sedans that the tech companies likely will oppose, based on the claim that they already have stringent background checks for drivers and adequate insurance.
“We feel we have a responsibility to make sure that a profit-making venture is appropriately insured to cover the liability of all innocent parties,” said taxicab commission chairman Ron Linton. “We are crafting legal language as to what liability responsibilities have to be met.”
The details of the proposed insurance regulations are being finalized, Linton said. He is also seeking to limit “ridesharing” drivers’ hours to 20 per week, require e-hail companies UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar to provide a list of all vehicles and drivers who work in Washington, and mandate two safety inspections per vehicle per year.
The idea behind limiting drivers’ hours is that the longer they are out on the road, the more likely it is they will accept street hails, which are the exclusive domain of the District’s metered taxicab fleet.
“These are not professional drivers,” Linton said. “If this is not a full-time endeavor, if they are not professional, and if they are not going to have a commercial license, then they are not obviously going to be working full-time at it.”
Uber’s general manager in D.C., Zuhairah Washington, said the company recently upgraded its insurance policies for UberX drivers who, like Lyft and Sidecar drivers, use their personal vehicles to pick up passengers. The company recently posted its ridesharing insurance policy on its website.
“We pride ourselves in being leaders as it relates to safety on this particular issue,” Washington said. “We provide $1 million in driver liability, and that is multiples more than is what is required by the taxicab commission for taxis in D.C.”
At issue is whether passengers, pedestrians and other drivers are protected under the policies and who would be liable in the event of a crash — the driver or Uber. It's also unclear when the policies kick in. Lyft has changed its policies to cover their drivers at all times when they are on the road, not just when there is a passenger in the back seat.
Regular taxis see companies as threat
Lyft officials did not respond to emails seeking comment on the taxicab commission’s soon-to-be proposed regulations, but Jason Rainwater, a Lyft driver who lives in Virginia, said he does not think additional regulation is necessary.
“Most drivers already carry well above the state-required minimum insurance, but in order to alleviate some of these concerns Lyft announced insurance would cover drivers even when they are not actively driving,” said Rainwater, an account manager by day who uses his personal vehicle on nights and weekends to earn some money picking up rides.
A group that represents the “ridesharing” services’ competitors has launched a campaign to discredit UberX’s insurance policies, claiming they do not protect passengers.
The Taxicab, Limousine, & Paratransit Association created the website www.whosdrivingyou.org, where it posted a 33-page Uber auto insurance policy and asks website visitors to describe a “bad experience with Uber, Lyft, or Sidecar.”
Regular taxi drivers in Washington often see the tech companies as a threat to their livelihoods because of the flexibility of their passenger rates. Cabbies also say the “ridershare” drivers often illegally pick up street hails.
Chairman Linton said approximately 17 million of the 20 million annual vehicle-for-hire transactions in Washington are street hails, but steps may be necessary to protect that market.