In the course of my livetweeting of Monday’s D.C. Council hearing on Uber and other transportation innovations, I may have given the impression that Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) was an inveterate foe of the feisty car dispatch service.
Graham got into a rather snippy tete-a-tete with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, that revolved around a central question: Why should you, Uber, go largely unregulated while traditional taxis go so heavily regulated? Where’s the fairness in that?
But Graham’s position at the beginning of that exchange — more regulation for Uber and “sedan-class” vehicles — was not the same as his position at the end: “It became apparent to me that ... the answer was really to deregulate the taxicabs to some extent so that they could complete as sedans,” Graham told me Tuesday.
That seems like a logical enough response to the concerns expressed by some taxi operators that they are locked in to a heavily regulated structure while Uber sucks away their business with a more lightly regulated model.
So, Graham says, if customers are demanding sedans, let companies invest their capital in sedans rather than being locked in to taxis — or, at the very least, being forced to set up a separate sedan company and apply for new licensing and so forth.
”It takes the sting out of it,” he said, if taxi companies can be a part of the sedan boom rather then left battling it.
It’s unclear how things could be streamlined for the independent single-cab owner-operators that make up the bulk of the D.C. fleet, but Graham’s idea gets at the challenges in remaking the city’s vehicle-for-hire industry.
Simply put, can the new regulatory regime guarantee there will be enough properly licensed, app-dispatched luxury sedans to meet the demand Uber has created, while ensuring it still makes economic sense to maintain a fleet of modern, fare-regulated traditional cabs able to be hailed by app or by hand? Making it easier for drivers and owners to select whether they want to be in the taxi business or the sedan business or both, in whatever proportion they see fit, would go some way toward allowing market forces to answer that question.