Sometimes legislative hearings are just theater, but sometimes they actually educate elected officials about complex issues. Monday’s hearing on Uber and other innovative taxi service models achieved the latter, especially for Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham.
Graham started out the eight-plus-hour hearing lamenting an “uneven playing field” between Uber, which can charge any prices and doesn’t have to use Taxicab Commission-mandated technology, and standard taxis, where regulation both limits their income and increases their costs.
At the start, Graham sounded like he wanted to impose taxi-style rules on Uber. By the end, he had come to a different realization: The solution could be to let current taxis enjoy the same freedoms Uber does.
The question that council members and regulators will have to grapple with now is how exactly to let existing taxis compete with Uber. Will companies have to buy whole new fleets of black cars, or can they upgrade their existing vehicles?
At the start of the hearing, Graham noted that these regulations have come about because residents want higher quality. He sparred with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, arguing that Uber sets prices instead of drivers (Kalanick disagreed, saying it was the product of a negotiation, and if drivers didn’t like the prices, Uber wouldn’t have any drivers) or that the money will go to Los Angeles because that’s where Uber is based (Kalanick emphasized that most of the money goes to the drivers).
By the end of the hearing, though, Graham’s tune had changed. He didn’t stop believing that there was an uneven playing field, and he’s right—there is. But after a lot of very happy Uber drivers testified at the hearing, he concluded that letting more companies play on the Uber side of the field is the best approach.
[Continue reading David Alpert’s post at Greater Greater Washington.]
David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.