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Peter’s Take: Customer Über Alles

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

Peter RousselotThis month, posted two stories about fee-based rides in Arlington.

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Arlington currently is saddled with a hopelessly outdated Virginia regulatory framework which specifies only how Arlington should regulate traditional taxicab companies.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:

  • safety;
  • 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.

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