The Arlington County Board voted on Saturday to approve the licenses for 60 new taxis, all wheelchair accessible. Ten of those taxis will be operated by Blue Top Cab while the other 50 licenses will be owned by new company All Access Taxi.
The Board’s unanimous decision adds 20 more taxis to the county’s fleet than County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommended, bringing the total number of licensed cabs in the county to 847, 97 of which will be accessible cabs.
“Our taxi companies, members of the disability community and riders are telling us there is a growing demand for accessible taxi service in Arlington,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in a press release. “We strive to be a fully welcoming community, and these additional cabs will provide more options and convenience to many people with a disability.”
County staff’s report on the licenses said people with wheelchairs have had to wait three hours for an accessible taxi and have had trouble getting taxis from Reagan National Airport. Julie Piche, the CEO of All Access Taxi, said the County Board’s approval will drastically improve the lives of disabled Arlington residents.
“This is ground-breaking because for the first time a local government has recognized that accessible and equitable service requires a fleet and a dedicated effort,” Piche told ARLnow.com today. “This is a victory for people with disabilities across the nation because their needs have been recognized and their quest for accessible, on-demand transportation has been validated. Arlington’s leadership will set the standard for the nation.”
All Access Taxi anticipates offering rides on demand — via phone, online and a mobile app – in February, Piche said, and its full fleet is expected to be operational by April.
Photo courtesy All Access Taxi
The Arlington County Board will vote on whether to approve 40 new taxi licenses — all for taxis accessible to those with disabilities — at its meeting this Saturday. County Manager Barbara Donnellan, after initially recommending no new taxi licenses be issued for 2014, changed her mind in October, pushing for the new licenses.
Thirty of the new licenses would go to new company All Access Taxi, which had requested 60 taxi licenses. Ten of the new licenses would go to Blue Top Cab, bringing the total number of accessible cabs in the county to 77, or 9.3 percent of the county’s 827-vehicle fleet.
At its Oct. 30 meeting, Arlington’s Transportation Commission recommended the County Board approve 80 new taxi licenses for accessible cabs. County staff noted that even the 40 licenses its recommending could have adverse impacts on crowding at taxi stands and could impair the ability of current drivers to earn a living.
“It is not desirable to add new vehicles to the taxi fleet if a drop in taxi utilization due to [companies like UberX and Lyft] is resulting in existing taxicabs being idled,” the county staff report states. “It is uncertain how much the size of the overall taxi consumer market would increase with the presence of additional accessible taxis and whether that market increase could offset the additional taxicabs.”
Staff also said it recognizes the challenges All Access Taxi will face as a new company with a “limited” fleet of vehicles, but added the approved 30 licenses will require a significant up-front investment and “if needed, other mechanisms, other than through Arlington County certificate process, could be pursued.” Staff also questioned both Blue Top and All Access Taxi’s ability to recruit professional drivers and train them to handle disabled customers.
The County Board is scheduled to discuss the licenses this Saturday morning as a regular hearing item.
Photo courtesy All Access Taxi
Donnellan said in a memorandum in July she would recommend issuing no new taxi licenses in the county. But when the Accessibility Subcommittee of the Transit Advisory Committee took up the issue in September, it found that there was a need the county had not adequately addressed.
“[The subcommittee] that the low level of taxi complaints reported in the 2014 Certificate Determination Report was not a meaningful measure to determine the amount of accessible taxis needed,” Donnellan’s memorandum, issued earlier this month, states. “Since taxi dispatchers are informing callers that a three-hour wait is required for an accessible taxicab ride, customers are unlikely to complain to the County or request a same-day accessible taxi trip in the future.”
All Access Taxi requested 60 accessible taxi licenses in the summer after Donnellan issued her initial recommendation. Donnellan revised her recommendation to allow All Access Taxi 30 accessible taxi licenses and 10 more licenses for Blue Top Cab, bringing the total number of accessible cabs in the county to 77. All Access CEO and Founder Julie Piché said that 30 is not the optimal number to serve the disabled population in Arlington.
“Sixty wheelchair accessible taxis in Arlington County would maximize service to this underserved population by providing 2 taxis per square mile,” Piché said in a press release. “This will allow the population of disabled individuals to receive spontaneous service for the first time in history. The days of having to call more than 24 hours ahead, or waiting over 3 hours for an accessible taxi after a spontaneous call will be a thing of the past with our 60 taxi accessible fleet.”
According to the county report, the need for accessible services is increasing in Arlington. Arlington’s STAR program and MetroAccess — two public paratransit services — have seen their registrations in Arlington increase 26 percent in the last two years, the memorandum states. Both services use cabs when they don’t have other vehicles available, and there have been more reported late pickups among Arlington STAR riders from March to June this year than during any period since March 2011.
The new taxi license recommendation will go before the county’s Transportation Commission on Thursday, and hopes to see a larger number approved by the County Board when the matter goes before them in December. If approved, accessible cabs will make up 9.3 percent of the county’s taxi fleet, up from the current level of 4.7 percent.
Photos courtesy All Access Taxi
All Access Taxi has submitted applications for 60 taxi licenses with Arlington County, which allows companies to request additional taxi licenses for two months every other year, according to county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel.
All Access Taxi COO Rick Vogel told ARLnow.com that his company would be the first in the region to offer 100 percent of its fleet as wheelchair accessible. The former Envirocab executive claimed that the standard wait for a wheelchair-accessible cab in the D.C. area is about three hours.
“There really isn’t anything for spontaneous service,” Vogel said. “Reagan lies within our boundaries, yet there’s no accessible service there. About once a week, someone gets stuck there with no way around. There are just no taxis.”
“I think Arlington has always been a leader in disabled issues,” Vogel continued. “All our buildings are accessible, everything is, except our cabs. At first I thought of it as a business idea, but now it’s becoming a cause. It upsets me because they can’t get around town.”
Vogel said he plans for the company to be headquartered in South Arlington and to train drivers in assisting people with disabilities. He plans on purchasing vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect (pictured), the Dodge Caravan, the Honda Odyssey and others. Each cab will be equipped with a wheelchair ramp in the back, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.
To operate as a taxi service in Arlington, however, a company needs to own a county taxicab certificate. There are 787 certificates in the county right now, only 37 of which are wheelchair accessible. County Manager Barbara Donnellan, however, recommended in a July 1 memorandum that no new taxicab certificates be issued until 2016, specifically including accessible taxis in her recommendation.
“Based on staff’s quantitative analysis,” Donnellan wrote, “there are sufficient bases to justify maintaining the existing number of taxicabs (750 vehicles and 37 wheelchair vehicles) authorized to operate in the county.”
Donnellan and her staff will make her final recommendations by Oct. 15, the Transportation Commission will make its alternative recommendation on Nov. 15 and the County Board will decide whether to approve new certificates, if any, at its December meeting. The county issued 22 new licenses in 2012, and didn’t issue any in 2010.
According to Donnellan’s memorandum, the county’s population has increased by 3,300 since 2012, but the workforce has shrunk by 6,900 jobs. While there are roughly the same amount of cabs per person now than before the new certificates were issued, there are now 3.47 taxicabs per 1,000 employees, as opposed to 3.36 in 2012. The overall number of cabs dispatched has increased 1.1 percent over the course of the last two years.
Donnellan wrote in the memorandum, however, that a new application for a certificate might be considered if the applicant provides adequate reason or innovation. Vogel believes his company deserves to be awarded certificates to serve a chronically underserved populace.
“I think this idea’s time has come,” he said. “These people have money to spend, but they can’t get to where they want to go. I think at the end of the day, we can make people’s lives better.”
Photo via Ford
A pedestrian was rushed to the hospital during rush hour Thursday morning after she was struck by a taxi close to the Rosslyn Metro station.
The woman was walking north on N. Moore Street, crossing busy 19th Street N. about 9:15 a.m. when she was hit by a D.C. cab, witnesses and the cab driver said.
The cab’s passenger, on her way to work, said her ride was interrupted by a shout.
“I heard a scream and then he slammed on his brakes,” the passenger said, declining to provide her name.
A witness said the pedestrian was in the crosswalk when she was hit.
“She didn’t stop walking,” said a consultant, 34, who had been walking to work, noting that he didn’t see the color of the traffic signal.
The driver, 70-year-old Charlie Harrison, said the pedestrian crossed in front of his car as he had a green light.
“I never saw her. She walked right in front of the car,” the D.C. resident said, pointing to his dangling passenger-side mirror.
Harrison, who said he’s been behind the wheel professionally for 50 years, said safety is his top priority but admitted to having hit a pedestrian in D.C. “about a year ago.”
“The other person I hit was a drunk,” he said about the midday crash near 10th and U streets.
The pedestrian hit Thursday morning was transported to George Washington University Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, Arlington police said.
Officers at the scene declined to disclose whether Harrison would be charged for the crash, and Universal Cab refused to comment.
(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Arlington Red Top Cab launched “Red Select” last week, a car service designed to be less expensive for customers than ordering a Lincoln Town Car, but a different level of service than a taxi.
“We’ve seen, particularly with this economic environment, there’s a space between taxi and sedan,” said Red Top Director of Sales and Marketing Von Pelot, “where we can offer something of a boutique car service.”
The service has been in a pilot phase since June. It’s launching small, with just a handful of cars and drivers trained, vetted and hired specifically to drive the new black Ford Fusions. The service is by reservation only, and costs $3 per ride and an additional $2.50 per mile, with no fees for luggage or extra people.
The service currently has a dozen cars in operation and, for the benefit of the relatively small roster of drivers, currently only operates from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
“We think there is going to be big demand,” said Red Top Chief Operating Officer Jack Weiner. “People really want reliable transportation in a clean, well-maintained car that’s fully insured with a driver that’s fully vetted.”
Weiner said Red Select is another way to stay competitive in the rapidly-changing taxi and car service industry. He said last week’s decision by Gov. Terry McAuliffe that Über and Lyft can legally operate in the state, at least temporarily didn’t change his optimism for the new product.
“The recent events don’t really have a lot of bearing on it,” he said. “People’s expectations are changing and you need more than one type of product.”
Customers can call 703-777-7777 to request a Red Select car, and Red Top is developing a separate app for Red Select customers.
Disclosure: Arlington Red Top Cab is an ARLnow.com advertiser
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring announced today that they reached an agreement with the two smartphone transportation companies with stipulations that will allow them to operate in Virginia. The conditions “will help ensure the safety of passengers, bring the companies into compliance with Virginia law, provide transparency into their operations, and promote a level playing field for transportation providers,” according to a press release.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles issued a cease-and-desist order to the companies on June 5 for doing business in Virginia without an operating permit. Uber and Lyft have continued to operate in the state, including in Arlington, which has led to protests from taxi drivers and a lawsuit from taxi companies. The decision to allow the companies to operate did not come with a penalty for flouting the cease-and-desist order for two months.
“In order for Virginia to remain economically competitive, it is important that we welcome innovative companies like Uber and Lyft and provide them with the resources they need to safely and effectively operate in the Commonwealth,” McAuliffe said in the release.
McAuliffe’s office also announced it has authorized a study on how best to permanently allow Uber and Lyft to operate in Virginia without disrupting competitive balance with the traditional taxi companies and providing safety for its passengers. The study is expected to conclude by the 2015 legislative session, when McAuliffe hopes a bill will be introduced to codify the agreement.
The eight Northern Virginia taxi companies — including Arlington Blue Top Cab — that are suing to for an injunction against Uber and Lyft, issued a statement responding to McAuliffe’s decision, saying they “objected strongly” to the ruling.
“Today’s issuance of temporary authority to an out-of-state carrier is both unprecedented and illegal,” Northern Virginia Checkered Cab owner Spencer Kimball said in the statement. “Under state law, the DMV was not even permitted to consider this application, considering that Uber and Lyft had been openly boasting that they were not following the ‘cease and desist’ from the DMV — and had no intention to do so. As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of Virginia, the Attorney General should be enforcing the laws, not promoting a double standard for well-connected Silicon Valley companies.”
The conditions of the temporary operating authority, per the press release, must be met or either company would have its temporary license revoked. They are:
- Extensive background checks of drivers, with immediate disqualifiers including convictions for any felony, fraud, sexual offenses, or violent crimes, or registration as a sex offender.
- A review of driving history, with disqualification for drivers convicted of three or more moving violations in the last three years, DUI, underage drinking, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer, hit and run, or eluding law-enforcement, or a revocation of a driver’s license.
- Zero tolerance for the use of drugs or alcohol by any drivers, and a suspension pending investigation of any driver accused of violating the zero tolerance policy.
- Only employing drivers who are properly licensed and over 21, and vehicles that carry a maximum of seven passengers and are properly registered and inspected for safety and emissions, where applicable.
- Rigorous insurance requirements, including requiring drivers to maintain automobile liability insurance, maintaining on behalf of all drivers an additional $1,000,000 of coverage from the moment a driver accepts a trip request until the passenger leaves the vehicle, and liability insurance for drivers who are logged onto the companies’ software but not providing services.
- Maintaining documentation for each driver of his or her background check, sex offender registry check, driving record, proof of insurance, valid driver’s license, Social Security number, vehicle registration, and proof of vehicle safety inspection. Documentation must be available to DMV on demand to investigate any complaints, and must be available for periodic audits to ensure compliance.
- Paying any previously assessed civil penalties for non-compliance and dropping any appeals, which both companies have already done.
- Features to help customers identify their driver and vehicle, including from the outside of the vehicle.
- Drivers notifying the companies of any change in their license status, vehicle registration, insurance, or any arrest for a crime that would disqualify them from being a driver.
- Rate transparency and documentation.
- Companies advising drivers of their need to comply with applicable tax laws.
- Only accepting rides booked through the companies’ mobile device apps, not street hails.
- Companies maintaining a Virginia transportation broker’s license.
The full press release, after the jump: (more…)
County Board members weighed in on the ongoing Uber and Lyft controversy during Saturday’s monthly meeting, largely expressing support for the taxi drivers and companies.
None of the County Board members expressed an explicit desire to ban Uber, citing its popularity, but Board Chair Jay Fisette, Vice Chair Mary Hynes and Board member Walter Tejada each expressed sympathy for the county’s taxi drivers — who have organized protests of Uber and Lyft — who are losing business to the ridesharing services.
“As a Board, as individuals, there is a recognition that some of these new services have stolen some people’s hearts or gotten their business because of the technology they provide and some of the customer service they provide,” Fisette said. “We are very respectful of the drivers… that do need to make a living in this community and do a fine job of it, and then we need to figure out as a state and as a community what authority we have and how we might effect and take advantage of that authority as that unfolds.”
Uber’s UberX service and Lyft allow smartphone users to book rides with non-professional drivers. The drivers drive their own cars and Uber and Lyft don’t have licenses to operate as taxi or car service companies. The lack of regulatory oversight led the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a cease and desist order against the companies, but both Uber and Lyft have continued to operate in the state.
Most recently, eight Northern Virginia taxi companies — including Arlington Blue Top Cabs — have filed a lawsuit requesting an injunction against the two companies, requesting a judge order them to stop operations in the state before the DMV and Attorney General Mark Herring make a ruling on their requests for operating authority.
“I thought the cease and desist order from the state was very appropriate,” Tejada said. “Who knows what other issues are going on that we don’t know about because these [companies] are not regulated. I want to make sure the cab drivers, who are working very hard in this area, get the respect they have earned. These are hard-working individuals, and some of these companies charge them an arm and a leg to operate a cab. I hope that everyone will indeed play by the rules.”
Only John Vihstadt, the lone non-Democrat on the County Board, sang a different tune in responding to the issue, remarking about the popularity of services while pointing out he’s a loyal Arlington Red Top Cab customer.
“I think we need to keep in mind that the marketplace is responding to a need and responding to a demand,” Vihstadt said. “Competition is a good thing and we should not stifle innovation… At the same time, I think we need to consider the current regulatory scheme that we have for our established cab companies to allow them to be more competitive and able to better respond to the needs of the marketplace.”
Hynes pointed out that while Uber and Lyft have grabbed a sizable portion of the market share, they leave out customers who don’t have access to smartphones.
“The state has to explore how you make sure this service is available to all the people who might need it and that nobody is dealt out of the process by their age, disability or income,” she said. “It’s not just about the young people who use Uber and Lyft, but it’s really how it functions as a piece of our transportation system overall.”
The suit, filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court, requests the judge issue an injunction that would prevent the ride sharing companies from operating in Virginia without a broker’s license. The DMV has issued “cease and desist” orders against the two ride-sharing companies, but they have continued to operate in the state.
Uber and Lyft have applied for temporary operating authority while the DMV reviews their applications for broker’s licenses. According to a DMV official, neither company has been granted operating authority — temporary or otherwise — while the department awaits guidance from Attorney General Mark Herring.
The 41-page lawsuit claims Uber and Lyft operate without regulation and without requiring detailed background checks or comprehensive auto insurance, and by doing so “pose an immediate, real and substantial threat to the business of Alexandria White Top, Fairfax White Top, Arlington Blue Top, Love Limousine, VIP Cab Company, Checker Cab, Prince William Yellow Cab and King Cab.”
“The primary concern of Arlington Blue Top Cabs is the safety of our passengers and driver,” Arlington Blue Top Cabs Vice President John Massoud told ARLnow.com through a spokesperson. “Companies such as Uber and Lyft have proven their lack of concern for these people by not requiring adequate insurance and background checks. That’s why we filed this complaint in Fairfax Circuit Court.”
Taxi drivers have mounted protests against Uber and Lyft in recent months, and before that were protesting cab companies for “unfair working conditions,” and requesting Arlington enact a “driver’s bill of rights.”
During the legal disputes, Uber and Lyft have maintained service to Northern Virgina — Uber is even expanding farther out into the outskirts of Northern Virginia — as local police, including the Arlington County Police Department, have committed to upholding the DMV’s cease-and-desist order by ticketing drivers.
Uber and Lyft have combined to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital as they expand to more cities nationwide and internationally. Uber launched in the D.C. area last summer.
Green Tomato Cars Co-founder and Vice President Jonny Goldstone said the car service launched in Arlington in May and has more than 25 cars in its fleet that are licensed to operate in Virginia, and he plans to add five to 10 more every month, as allowed by Virginia law for operating a car service as opposed to a taxi company.
“We’re looking at getting to 70 to 100 vehicles within the calendar year,” Goldstone told ARLnow.com. “With that sort of number, we’re pretty comfortable we’re going to be able to offer a car in 10 minutes wherever people are. At that point, I think we’re really a viable competitor to Uber for the on-demand rides. Right now we’re most convenient as a pre-scheduled ride service.”
Goldstone said Green Tomato has a “more intimate and personal relationship” with its drivers than Uber and Lyft, and all drivers either rent their cars — all black Prius Vs — from the company or can buy their own. Goldstone said all drivers go through a full criminal check, drug test, have their driving record for the last 10 years reviewed and have to go through a multi-layer interview process.
“About one in seven drivers get through the whole process,” he said. “There’s much more partnership between us and our ambassadors, which we call them because they’re representing the company.”
Green Tomato Cars launched in London in 2006 and is also launching in Paris in the near future. The D.C. area is its first market in the U.S.
Green Tomato charges customers for distance, not time, Goldstone said, except for a $5 rush hour surcharge to account for traffic. A trip from the Pentagon to Dulles International Airport costs $54.99, according to the in-app rate, and from Rosslyn to the Columbia Heights neighborhood of D.C. costs $29.99.
In addition to the app, customers can book trips online and over the phone. Goldstone said each car is equipped with free WiFi for the customers.
While Green Tomato boasts its regulatory approval to operate in D.C.’s Virginia suburbs, Uber and Lyft have submitted requests to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles requesting “temporary operating authority” and a broker’s license, which will “go through the proper channels” to determine if the two ridesharing services can legally operate in the state, a DMV official told ARLnow.com last week.
Goldstone said that even though Green Tomato is a licensed operator, and he believes “everyone is a little bit in the wrong” in the fight between Uber, Lyft and the DMV, that doesn’t mean Green Tomato is without worry.
“There is a concern that even as a legitimate operator, we are still going to be targeted, especially by D.C. regulators,” he said. “The Virginia regulators are perhaps more aware of what we’re doing, but the D.C. regulations are so unclear that it’s going to be difficult.”
Photo (top) via Green Tomato
Both incidents took place on the 500 block of 15th Street S. Both involved two suspects in their twenties. One robbery was committed at gunpoint. The cab driver was assaulted during the other robbery.
From this week’s Arlington County crime report:
ROBBERY, 140626002, 500 block of S. 15th Street. At 12:20 am on June 26, two unknown suspects assaulted and robbed a cab driver of cash and his belongings. Suspect one is described as a black male in his twenties, approximately 6’0″ and 160 lbs. He was wearing a black baseball cap, dark jacket over a white t-shirt, jeans, and black and white shoes. Suspect two is described as a black male in his twenties, approximately 6’0″ and 160 lbs. He was wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans.
ROBBERY, 140629058, 500 block of S. 15th Street. At 11:10 pm on June 29, two unknown suspects robbed a cab driver at gunpoint of cash and his belongings. Suspect one is described as a black male in his twenties, approximately 6’1″ with a skinny build. He had a full beard and was wearing shorts. Suspect two is described as a black male in his twenties, approximately 6’2″ with a skinny build. He was wearing salmon colored shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.
The rest of the crime report, after the jump. All named suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty.
The DMV asserts that the smartphone-based services, which allow drivers to make money by using their own cars like a dispatched taxicab, are illegal because they have not received the proper authorization from the DMV to operate in Virginia.
In letters to company officials, the DMV says it will “enforce existing laws by companies… and by individual drivers that lack authority to provide passenger transportation.”
Tonight the Arlington County Police Department said it plans to assist in that enforcement, effective immediately.
“We will enforce it, but it will not be a primary focus of our operations,” ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck told ARLnow.com. “We are going to take a soft approach, but we will not turn a blind eye.”
Both Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, told news outlets that they’ll keep operating in Virginia.
Sternbeck did not clarify how, exactly, officers plan to single out Uber and Lyft drivers for enforcement. While Uber drivers typically operate discreetly, with nothing to outwardly distinguish their vehicles, Lyft drivers are supposed to drive around with a large, pink moustache attached to their car’s grille.
Jon Liss, Executive Director of Tenants and Workers United, which has been rallying local cab drivers against Uber and Lyft, applauded the DMV’s action and called on the Arlington County Board to do more to protect cab drivers.
“It is time for Arlington to get in sync with the state DMV and enforce one set of rules for all taxi-like services,” he said. “Drivers in Arlington deserve ‘dispute resolution’ protections and fair and enforced regulations.”
Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans slammed the state’s response to Uber and Lyft, placing blame on Virginia’s Democratic governor.
“The DMV’s decision to crack down on Lyft and Uber is reprehensible,” said AFCYR Chairman Matthew Hurtt. “During his campaign, Governor McAuliffe emphasized the importance of efficient government and transportation in making the Commonwealth the best place for business. Yet, less than six months into his term, he stands idly by while his administration cracks down on a thriving industry that not only brings jobs to the region, but also provides safe and efficient transportation at an affordable price.”
“The DMV should withdraw their cease and desist letter along with their preposterous interpretation of this law,” Hurtt concluded.
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
The stories and comments highlighted a controversy featuring charges and counter-charges among:
* traditional taxicab companies like Arlington Red Top Cab;
* newer providers like Uber and Lyft; they offer apps allowing smart phone-equipped riders to schedule rides from drivers who use their own personal vehicles to provide those rides, and bill the rider’s credit card;
* customers of both kinds of providers, and
* drivers for both kinds of providers.
Fortunately or unfortunately for the partisans on various sides of this controversy, Arlington right now cannot adopt the ideal framework to address this situation. Under the so-called Dillon Rule, Arlington needs explicit authorization under Virginia law to develop a comprehensive solution.
Arlington currently is saddled with a hopelessly outdated Virginia regulatory framework which specifies only how Arlington should regulate traditional taxicab companies. This existing framework needs a radical overhaul. Current Virginia law also does not give Arlington the comprehensive authority needed to regulate the newer providers.
What Arlington can do now is develop suggested principles and minimum standards that it would like the authority to use to regulate all providers of fee-based rides.
To the maximum extent possible, this new framework should eliminate:
- caps on the numbers of individuals, companies, or vehicles that could provide the services;
- maximum or minimum fees that could be charged, and
- other purely economic regulations and barriers to entry or exit.
However, the new regulatory framework should set minimum standards and requirements in areas such as:
- liability insurance;
- background checks, and
- full disclosure of terms and conditions of service, preferably on a new website that would enable fair, side-by-side comparisons, among all providers.
D.C.’s recent experience with these issues offers a cautionary tale. The D.C. City Council, instead of taking the approach I recommend above, ended up granting its traditional taxicab companies a monopoly on one part of the business, while giving Uber a monopoly on a different part of the business. Two monopolies are not better than one.
Arlington County should develop a blueprint for a new 21st century approach to these issues. That blueprint should give the highest priority to customer service and value. Then, Arlington should ask our legislative delegation to take our blueprint to Richmond, and seek bi-partisan support for the new state laws Arlington needs to implement that blueprint.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
Dozens of Arlington taxi drivers drove around Arlington this morning with their flashers on and horns honking, protesting county policies that they say do not adequately protect them from cab companies and competitors.
This is at least the fourth taxi driver protest directed at the Arlington County Board since last September. The drivers, organized by Arlington United Taxi Operators, Tenants & Workers United and Virginia New Majority, are asking the Board to impose new regulations on taxi companies that would protect drivers from termination. They are also asking for increased regulation of UberX, which they say is “decimating the taxi industry.”
Protest organizers said about 75 taxi drivers met in Pentagon City this morning and decided to ride around the county during the morning rush hour, slowing down traffic in hopes of raising awareness to their cause. They drove from Pentagon City to Ballston, where they handed out flyers at the Ballston Metro Station, before driving down Fairfax Drive and Clarendon Blvd. They distributed more flyers at the Clarendon and Rosslyn Metro stations.
“Unregulated companies, such as UberX, are allowed to work in Arlington while ignoring insurance, safety, background checks and pricing rules and regulations,” the flyers state. “This is decimating the taxi industry and putting the public at risk. It’s UberDangerous!”
Jon Liss, who heads both Virginia New Majority and Tenants and Workers United, said the drivers are pushing the County Board to adopt “a ‘dispute resolution’ process so that drivers are not subject to arbitrary firing or discipline.” Liss said there were no incidents of note during the traffic slowdown.
Earlier this month, the same groups organized a rally at the County Board’s offices in Courthouse in protest of UberX, which launched in the D.C. area last summer under the slogan “Better, Faster, Cheaper… than a taxi.” Red Top Cab reported that dispatched rides had decreased 5-10 percent since 2012, a drop they attribute in part to on-demand ridesharing services like UberX, Sidecar and Lyft.
Last fall, cab drivers asked the Board for a “drivers bill of rights, protections against being fired without cause and the right to purchase their taxi license directly from the county.” The county only issues cab licenses to cab companies, not to individual drivers, an arrangement drivers feel puts them at a disadvantage.
The taxi drivers’ flyer asks individuals to contact County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, giving the chairman’s county phone and email address. In the fall, Board member Mary Hynes told ARLnow.com, “the system exists for a reason… the majority of the Board has not been in favor of many of [the drivers'] proposals in the past.”
(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Nearly a hundred Arlington (Va.) taxi drivers crowded into the County Board offices Thursday afternoon, asking county policymakers to take action against UberX.
UberX, which launched in D.C. last summer, is a smartphone app that connects users with drivers who use their personal vehicles to give on-demand rides. It presents itself as a “better, faster, cheaper” alternative to taxis.
But in Arlington, taxi drivers and companies are becoming more vocal in their criticism of UberX. They say it’s unregulated, dangerous and illegal. That, and it’s hurting their bottom line.
Red Top Cab, the largest taxi company in Arlington, told ARLnow.com that the number of trips it dispatches is down 5-10 percent compared to 2012 — a drop that it attributes in part to UberX and similar services, like Lyft. Drivers told us there are other signs that UberX is siphoning off riders: full taxi stand lines and some drivers defecting to Uber.
“They’re trying to put people like us out of business,” said Charlie King, Vice President of Red Top, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. “We don’t have $300 million of Google’s money to play with, so it’s a bit difficult to compete. We do everything we can to keep rates for our drivers as low as we can given the cost structures dictated by regulatory requirements.”
(Uber has raised more than $300 million in venture capital, part of which came from Google Ventures.)
Drivers bear the brunt of the impact from increased competition. They pay Red Top and other cab companies a flat fee that covers the vehicle, maintenance, insurance and dispatch service — a fee that they say keeps rising. Meanwhile, with fewer riders to pick up, nearly every driver at the County Board office Thursday raised their hands to say that they’ve been working longer hours and making less money since the launch of UberX. Many said they work 7 days a week.
“UberX is a cancer,” said Daniel Berhane, an Alexandria cab driver who came to support Thursday’s protest, which was organized in part by the group Virginia New Majority. Berhane said he was working 10 hours a day before UberX. Now he’s working 12-14 hours a day and “even that’s not enough.”
“People are preferring UberX because the fare is lower,” said Syed Omar, an Arlington cab driver. “Passengers are telling us they’re taking it.”
“There’s less and less business,” said another driver, who complained about the loitering tickets drivers have been getting from police. “Taxi stands are full. We’re just driving around.”
Drivers and cab companies alike say UberX competes on an uneven playing field and should be subject to the same rules and regulations as the taxi industry. That would include requirements like obtaining taxi permits, taking police background checks, carrying commercial auto insurance, and charging flat, regulated fares. UberX, said Red Top’s King, is “unregulated and frankly an illegally operating entity… that’s doing its best to undercut the market.”
(Uber’s app can also be used to request pricier rides from “black car” livery service drivers, who are subject to more regulation than UberX drivers. Cab companies and drivers said they’re primarily concerned about the low-cost UberX and Lyft services.)