The D.C. Council this week will consider legislation to exert more control over popular vehicle-for-hire car-sharing services such as Uber.
Under a bill that will get preliminary consideration Thursday, web and digital-dispatched sedans would be expected to follow many of the same rules that govern taxi cabs.
The drivers of sedans operating in the District would have to be registered and licensed by the city, agree to serve all areas, provide receipts to passengers, take steps to be handicapped accessible and clearly articulate fares before a passenger trip begins.
Uber and other similarly-classified car services would also be banned from picking people up off the street, solidifying their role as on-call transportation services that riders solicit from a phone or online.
But the legislation, crafted by Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), does not set a minimum fare schedule for Uber or other limousine services.
By not mandating a minimum fare, the council may avoid the backlash it experienced this summer when Cheh sought to link the city’s burgeoning vehicle-for-hire market to comprehensive taxi cab reform.
After talks with Uber officials, Cheh initially proposed setting a minimum $15 fare for companies such as Uber. But hours before a vote on the taxi cab reform bill, Uber mobilized its thousands of customers to lobby the council against the bill.
With council members deluged with e-mails and phone calls in opposition, Cheh removed the $15 minimum fare from the bill. But Cheh, chairwoman of the Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation, has held firm to the position that sedan services need some regulation.
Though much of the focus has been on Uber, Cheh said she expects multiple sedan services will soon have a presence in the District.
“This is a bill that transcends Uber,” Cheh said. “Maybe they were here first, but there will be competition.”
By requiring that the D.C. Taxicab Commission license all the drivers, the vehicles-for-hire drivers would be expected to abide by existing rules that could largely limit their work to the city.
Under long-standing “inter-jurisdictional agreements” among cab companies, a driver licensed by the District cannot respond to a client in the suburbs unless that passenger is being driven into the city, Cheh said.
“They could go to Virginia and take someone back into the District but what they can’t do is go to Virginia and pick up and drop off in that jurisdiction,” Cheh said. “You can’t be the local service. The local service should be the local service…. We want to be in compliance with agreements in other jurisdictions.”
To assure there are enough licenses for sedan drivers, Cheh said the D.C. taxicab commission will boost the number of licenses available for sedan services.
But the legislation would free digitally dispatched sedans and limousines from commission regulations, instead requiring them to abide by the rules outlined in the bill.
Except for trips to airports and “point-to-point trips based on well-traveled routes or event related trips such as sporting events,” the drivers would have to charge fares based on “time and distance,” according to the legislation.
Drivers would be banned from “loitering” in front of hotels or other popular pick-up points. The bill also would require licensed limousine services to serve all neighborhoods in the city and make accommodations to provide a wheel-chair accessible vehicle if one is requested.