D.C. Taxicab Commission
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
D.C. could eventually have one cab color to rule them all. Or stripes.
Mayor Vincent Gray unveiled four new color schemes on Monday, one of which will be chosen next year as the new paint job for the district’s 6,500 taxicabs, a process that will take years to fully implement. The multicolored striped patterns are one piece of a larger modernization effort that is coming together slowly -- too slowly for D.C.’s top taxi regulator.
“I’m a very impatient person and I would like to speed it up,” said Ron Linton, the head of the Taxicab Commission.
Although district lawmakers passed a taxicab modernization bill this year, the most important changes have yet to come to fruition: GPS smart meters, credit card payment machines and touch screen monitors for customers in the back seat.
The new paint jobs will be introduced when taxi drivers replace their aging vehicles; by 2018 no cab on Washington’s streets will be older than 7 years, as per a new regulation, Linton said.
“The people who ride in the cabs were pushing and pushing for a modernization program,” said Linton, referring to a survey undertaken by the office of D.C. Council member Mary Cheh that found widespread dissatisfaction with the current conditions of taxicabs. That survey also found the public’s preferred color to be yellow (38%). Red was second (15%).
Linton’s office will choose the winning color scheme next year, taking into consideration public opinion. The public may vote for their favorite inside Verizon Center through January 7 where two sample future taxicabs are on display, or choose designs online.
(UPDATE, 12/11/12 1:30pm: Two D.C. city council members -- one of whom said he was "appalled" by the color choices - say they will consider legislation to end the public vote so a new color scheme can be chosen.)
Last month a panel of administrative law judges killed the district’s plan to install credit card machines in cabs because of problems with the contract awarded to VeriFone, which beat out seven other tech firms. Linton says the matter is still being resolved by the District Office of Contracting and Procurement.
“We selected Verifone on the basis of what was, in my judgment, an honest evaluation and a cost analysis,” he said.
At a news conference to unveil the proposed color schemes and encourage the public to vote on their favorite, Mayor Gray said changes to the district’s taxis are necessary not only to improve the hospitality industry but for the cabbies, too.
“The changes have to come,” Gray said. “This industry has got to change to be competitive. I actually think the cab drivers will make more money as a result of this.”
Gray said touch screen monitors that offer riders the option of tipping 15, 20, or 25 percent will induce larger tips.
“As opposed to what you have now where people in a cash business sometimes give nothing or give a meager sum, I think the cab drivers will ultimately do better as a result of the changes we’re proposing.”
When those changes ultimately arrive is unclear, although Gray and Linton said it will take years to fully implement the new color scheme. Roughly one-third of taxicabs have installed credit card machines on their own, Linton said.
As for D.C.’s cabbies, some have been reluctant to accept changes that are commonplace in other cities. A common complaint is credit card processing fees will bite into a day’s pay. Others say GPS smart meters are an invasion of privacy. As for the proposed color patterns, one cabbie waiting for customers outside Union Station on Monday was not impressed.
“It looks ugly. It’s no good for the city color,” said B.K. Anthony, who drives a light blue SUV. “It looks junky.”
For the record, Mayor Gray called the colors “funky.”
: The multi-colored patterns of yellow and green OR red and white are – in the words of some D.C. councilmembers – appalling! And now two lawmakers say they will consider legislation to end the public vote so a new color scheme can be chosen. Councilmembers prefer a solid color like yellow or red to the striped patterns unveiled by the D.C. Taxicab Commission yesterday, which would have the final say on a color regardless of what the public picks. A survey conducted by Councilmember Mary Cheh on the state of the district’s cab industry found that 38 percent of respondents want all-yellow cabs, 15 percent want red.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) The battle between Uber the taxi hailing app and the District of Columbia is over.
After clashing for months over proposed regulations that Uber's CEO once claimed would cripple his business, the D.C. Council voted Tuesday to approve legislation creating a sedan class of vehicles-for-hire – separate from taxis – that will allow Uber to charge its customers fares based on distance and time as "digital dispatch" vehicles.
D.C. had been one of the more drawn out and contentious efforts to expand for Uber, and that says a lot. Uber has taken a confrontational approach to growing it's business from it's start in San Francisco a few years ago. Chicago sued the company for violating local regulations on pricing disclosure and safety. San Francisco has fined the company for breaking regulations on driver insurance. This summer Boston issued a cease and desist order to Uber. New York chased the company out of it's iconic yellow cabs saying it violated safety regulations among others. Taxi unions in several cities have also filed suit against the upstart tech company.
The D.C. ruling isn't likely a harbinger of amity between those other cities and Uber. The D.C. council created a separate class of cab that can use Uber. Official metered city taxi cab drivers still can't use the app to snag passengers. New York, for example, already has such a category for non-metered livery cars that are permitted to use Uber all they want.
The ruling is, however, is certain to embolden Uber's confrontational growth strategy.
“Today was a fantastic victory for Uber but also for innovation, for our consumers here, and the drivers that partner with us,” said Rachel Holt, Uber’s general manager in Washington, D.C. She thanked customers for helping convince the council as well as the District’s taxi cab commissioner to back away from more stringent regulations CEO Travis Kalanick once described as “from the draconian to the inane.”
“It's not about anything we did or won. I think what really won was that the fact that we have a passionate consumer base here,” she said. Over the past several months Uber customers flooded council members with complaints about proposals that threatened the company’s business model.
Uber’s black sedans are not hailed on the street. Instead, customers use Uber's smart phone app to order a car to their location using the phone’s GPS and pay with a registered credit card number.
The new legislation requires greater pricing transparency.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) A pitted battle in Washington, D.C. over taxi technology, rights and safeguards turned testy Monday, with hints at compromise as well.
The chief executive of a rising, internet-based sedan-for-hire service accused D.C. regulators of pushing “crippling requirements” that threaten to drive its partners out of business, during a day-long hearing before a city council panel.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said proposed regulations range from “the draconian to the inane,” pointing to one rule that would require sedan companies with which it partners to possess fleets of at least 20 vehicles.
Uber allows customers to order rides directly from its smart phone app, a work around to regulations common in many cities that license and regulate which cabs can be "street hailed." In D.C. "black cars" may not be hailed on the street, but with Uber they can be summoned through a few clicks. Passengers are billed to their credit cards and receipts are emailed. Uber charges a base fare of $7 plus time and distance; drivers keep 80 percent of the total fare.
Kalanick criticized a slew of proposed regulations, saying “grey areas” could lead to interpretations that would harm his business. The CEO’s testimony reflected his faith in the marketplace: if Uber drivers don’t do their jobs well there will not be demand for his product.
“It sounds like hyperbole but so many of our customers literally feel like we have changed their lives,” Kalanick testified. “We hear from families that chose to sell their second car, couples who can finally go on date night in hard-to-reach areas, and from women who feel totally comfortable heading out of their office late at night because they have a photo, license plate and phone number of their driver.”
Monday’s testimony marked the latest move by Uber and district lawmakers to find common ground as the D.C. Taxicab Commission (DCTC) attempts to protect the city’s own regulated taxi industry from a completely unregulated enterprise.
Uber announced it would equip yellow cabs in New York City with the service pushing the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission to remind its drivers they cannot accept prearranged rides, nor use mobile devices while driving, pending a review of regulations. Uber plans to find a way to expand in New York City.
D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ronald Linton has called Uber “arrogant.”
“The commission is in the process of adopting a regulation to add a new class of public vehicle-for-hire known as the sedan class for consideration and approval. This new class of service shall provide for rules to provide minimal regulatory requirements,” Linton testified on Monday. “I would also emphasize that this is a proposed regulation.”
D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chaired the Environment, Public Works, and Transportation Committee hearing, sought a conciliatory tone during Kalanick’s testimony, but the CEO refuted her claim that the district is attempting to work with Uber, not against it.
Cheh conceded that some of the proposed regulations may not make a lot of sense and suggested that Kalanick might be misreading the proposal to require sedan companies own at least 20 vehicles.
“The attorney general has read those regulations… you don’t have to have 20 taxis. So I’m not defending that. I’m just saying the rhetoric about the [regulations] being designed to put companies out of business or eliminate them is a little over the top and not correct,” Cheh said.
“I’ve read the regulations,” responded Kalanick. “And we’ve had my attorneys read them and I’d say at best it’s a grey area,” referring to confusion about rules governing the differences between taxis and sedans.
“That may be true,” Cheh said. “But I just wanted to make a statement… that these regulations are not law. I don’t want the rhetoric of the taxi commission trying to put people out of business to take hold.”
“But that is the reality of it,” Kalanick responded, adding that the DCTC “has been on the attack since the moment we got here.”
Proposed restrictions on makes and models and requirements that sedans only be painted by the manufacturers would add unnecessary layers of regulations that serve no purpose other than to make doing business in the district difficult, Kalanick said.
Uber sedan driver Saad Hamadi, who owns a single town car, testified that fleet requirements would drive him out of business. “The requirement for most cars to be 2009 and newer would cause me hardship because it is a 2008 model. It’s clean, looks nice inside and out, and my customers have never complained about its age.”
Despite the testy exchanges, Councilmember Cheh sought to emphasize that the district wants to welcome innovative companies as the landscape of vehicle-for-hire services changes. Earlier this year a survey posted to Cheh’s website revealed deep dissatisfaction with D.C. taxis among the public, a reason Uber supporters say the sedan service should be left alone: if the city-licensed taxis were more dependable Uber sedans wouldn’t be so popular.
Uber’s flexible pricing policy is considered by regulators to be unfair to the city’s taxicab industry because it allows Uber drivers to raise their prices during periods of high demand while traditional taxis charge a set minimum fare plus mileage and time measured by dashboard meters.