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Peter’s Take: Virginia DMV Shoots the Customer

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.

Peter RousselotARLnow.com reported last week that the Virginia Deptartment of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ordered Uber and Lyft to stop doing business. The DMV claims these companies’ operations violate current Virginia law. The Arlington Police Department says it plans to help DMV enforce its orders.

Uber and Lyft immediately responded saying they would continue to do business because their operations do NOT violate current Virginia law.

It would be foolish to try to resolve this dispute by spending months or years in court arguing whether Uber and Lyft have the right to do business under current Virginia law. For the reasons I explained in my May 29 column, current Virginia law is hopelessly out of date. Our law needs to be changed regardless of whether it currently authorizes Uber and Lyft to do business. My earlier column outlined the kinds of changes needed.

Those changes require action by the Virginia legislature. That action ought to be undertaken on a bi-partisan basis. Although individual legislators and officials in the executive branch ought to be starting now to develop this new legislation, it is unrealistic to expect a final new law to be passed and signed until the 2015 legislative session. Colorado has just enacted a new law on this subject. That law can guide Virginia’s efforts.

Did the DMV do the right thing by ordering Uber and Lyft to cease operations entirely until Virginia revises its laws?

NO!

Despite what VA DMV says, it is far from clear that current Virginia law prohibits Uber and Lyft from doing business entirely. It is clear that they are offering services that many customers find incredibly popular and valuable. A brief review of the comments posted to last week’s ARLnow.com story illustrates this.

For example, with over 80 up votes, Kyle Weathers says “this is laughable. You are basically killing jobs. Not to mention the fact that Uber delivers a FAR SUPERIOR service than any cab I have ever taken in Virginia.” With over 40 up votes, Paula Ledbetter Graves reports “I’ve used Uber X many times and have always had a great experience.”

Instead of issuing cease and desist orders, the DMV should be bending over backwards to:

  • help draft new laws that will enable Uber, Lyft, and traditional cab companies to operate on a  level playing field that regulates only things like safety, insurance and background checks, and
  • encourage Uber and Lyft to continue to do business in the meantime, while assuring that consumers have sufficient protections.

Since current law is ambiguous, the DMV should foster these innovative new businesses, not put unnecessary roadblocks in their path.

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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