Downtown D.C. traffic gridlocked as taxi drivers protest Uber, Lyft, Sidecar


A taxi caravan of hundreds drove slowly and honked car horns as they held up traffic on Constitution Avenue on Wednesday. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

A taxi caravan is seen on Wednesday along Constitution Avenue. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

This post has been updated.

Drivers in and around downtown D.C. were gridlocked in traffic Wednesday as a caravan of angry taxi drivers made its way  from East Potomac Park to Freedom Plaza — in a protest against app-based ride sharing services such as UberX.

Authorities said Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest opened in both directions around 1 p.m. The roadway had been closed from 15th to 9th streets Northwest because of the protest. The street closure caused other delays in the downtown area. Ironically, because of the protest, some people reported difficulty hailing cabs.

The drivers are members of the Teamster-affiliated D.C. Taxi Operators Association and the target of their protest is digital dispatched ride-sharing services such as Lyft, UberX and Sidecar, where regular people give rides to others using their private vehicles. The cab drivers have been at odds with the new services saying they have an unfair advantage over regular cabs since they don’t have to follow the same rules and pay the same fees.

Organizers said they planned to deliver a letter and petition to city officials asking them to impose a “cease and desist” order on the services.

Services such as Uber and Lyft have become popular alternatives for people looking for a ride, but such services have faced opposition from the taxi cab industry as well as some state officials. Virginia recently issued a cease-and-desist order to Lyft and Uber, barring the services from giving rides in the state (trips that originate in D.C. and Maryland, however are permitted). The app-based ride-sharing services have received a warmer reception from the D.C. Council where a bill currently under consideration  would allow such services to operate in the District as long as they meet certain insurance requirements and follow safety rules.  A separate set of proposed regulations by the D.C. Taxi Cab Commission, however, would place limits on the number of hours drivers for these services could operate unless they have a taxi license.

In a statement, the D.C. Taxicab Commission said the commission is working on updating regulations that will ensure “a fair, balanced, competitive, and safe system for passengers and drivers.”

D.C.’s taxi cab drivers aren’t alone in their protests. Such actions have taken place in the U.S. and around the world as cab drivers struggle to compete against these new companies.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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