Man visiting D.C. says Uber driver took him on wild ride

Update: Executive says there are lessons from his harrowing Uber experience

Well, the tweet pretty much says it all.

On Tuesday, Ryan Simonetti, CEO of New York-based Convene, had an Uber ride he won’t soon forget. The D.C. Taxicab Commission is investigating the matter, a spokesman confirmed Wednesday. And a spokesman for Uber said the driver in question is no longer with the company.

Here’s how it all went down:

About 1:15 p.m. Monday, Simonetti and two colleagues had finished up meetings near the Verizon Center and were planning to take an Uber car from 7th and F Streets NW to the company’s new offices in Tysons Corner.

“I use Uber everywhere I go. I travel all over the country, wherever I go I use Uber. I’m a diehard Uber fan,” Simonetti said. As they approached their Uber car, they spotted a D.C. taxi inspector talking to the driver.

Simonetti got into the front seat, and his colleagues got into the back seat. The inspector walked away. Thinking back, Simonetti suspects the inspector was going to check the documents the Uber driver had handed to him. Then, the Uber driver started driving down the street. The inspector turned his lights on and started to follow.

“That cop’s following you. What’s going on?” Simonetti said he asked the driver. He said the driver told him not to worry. “Oh no, he’s not a real cop,” the Uber driver replied. Simonetti said the driver then told them: “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to run this red light.”

The Uber driver then headed for the 9th Street tunnel, got on I-395 and proceeded to race down the highway going “well above the speed limit,” Simonetti said.

The taxi inspector followed.

“It was like an episode of ‘Cops,’” Simonetti said. “We’ve all seen the ‘Cops’ episode. This only ends two ways. Either the car crashes or the guy jumps out and runs. And he had plenty of opportunities to slow down and jump out and run, and he wasn’t doing that.” Simonetti said they drove for eight to 10 minutes.

He and his colleagues were yelling at the driver throughout, asking him to just slow down enough so that they could jump out of the car. The driver, he said, narrowly missed hitting other cars multiple times but insisted that if he stopped he would get a $2,000 fine.

“It was insane,” Simonetti said. “I physically tried to force his leg to hit the brake. I ripped off his pant leg…. I said, ‘Here’s two options. You take this exit, or I’m going to knock the side of your head in. If we crash, we crash, but you’re gonna kill us anyway.’”

The driver pulled onto an exit ramp.

The taxi inspector, who had been following the car, Simonetti said, pulled ahead of the Uber car so the driver couldn’t pass.

The three passengers got out, and the Uber driver turned around and went the wrong way up the exit ramp, into Virginia, Simonetti said.

The taxi inspector stayed with the three passengers.

Neville Waters, a spokesman for the D.C. Taxicab Commission, confirmed that there was an incident Tuesday involving one of the commission’s inspectors and an Uber driver.

Waters said the inspector filed a written report, and officials hope to interview him for more details.

Waters said the inspector noticed that the vehicle had Virginia license plates and wanted to ensure that the pickup was done through Uber’s app rather than as a street hail, which is illegal in the District. But before the inspector could confirm the information, the Uber driver fled, Waters said.

If the inspector discovered the driver was making an unauthorized pickup,the Uber driver could have had his car impounded and faced a fine — though not a $2,000 fine, Waters said. However, if the driver showed he was there because the passengers had booked him via app, he likely would not have faced sanctions.

A side note: Waters said the hack inspector tried to radio for help from other agencies, but his attempt coincided with an outage of the city’s emergency communications system.

Simonetti said he tweeted about the incident to let Uber know what happened. The company followed up. Later that day, an Uber representative said the driver had been “deactivated.”

“Uber became aware of a potential incident involving an UberBLACK trip in Washington, DC [Tuesday] afternoon,” said Taylor Bennett, a spokesman for Uber. “Rider safety is our #1 priority. We will cooperate with authorities in their investigation and have deactivated the driver pending the outcome.”

Bennett said the driver in question was commercially licensed to drive in Virginia.

Simonetti said he still thinks Uber is a great business, but the incident made him wonder about the screening process.

“The question is what the vetting process is for drivers?” he said. “As they get [bigger], how do you prevent stuff like that from happening? How do you screen crazy people out?”

When it came time to get to Tysons, the three men took a regular taxi, which the D.C. inspector helped summon. When they left their meeting there, they thought about taking Uber, but the wait was too long, so they took a cab instead.

This post has been updated.

(Disclosure: Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is an Uber investor.)

Julie Zauzmer is a local news reporter.
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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