Virginia taxi companies file lawsuit to stop Uber, other ride services

Correction: Earlier versions of this article misstated where the business executives from New York were picked up by an UberBlack driver. The passengers were picked up in the District, and asked to go to Tysons Corner.

July 19, 2014

A group of taxi companies in Virginia is seeking to stop Uber and other ride services from operating in the state, the latest effort to rein in an increasingly popular transportation option that connects passengers with drivers through smartphones.

In a lawsuit filed Friday in Fairfax County Circuit Court, eight Virginia cab companies contend that the drivers who contract with Uber and similar services are ferrying passengers illegally because they lack taxi licenses.

The lawsuit is similar to one filed recently in Maryland, where five taxi companies are seeking to stop such services.

“We’re playing by the rules, and the rules are in place to protect the public who ride in for-hire vehicles,” said Spencer Kimball, owner of Northern Virginia Checker Cab, one of the Virginia plaintiffs. “It would be so easy for them to comply with the regulations, but they’re choosing not to do so.”

Uber, Lyft and other such companies have come under increasing fire after gaining a foothold in major cities. Critics complain of price gouging during emergencies and say the drivers, who work part time for ride services, are not always properly vetted.

This month, a group of New York business executives picked up in the District and headed to Tysons Corner were taken on a wild ride by an UberBlack driver who was questioned and then followed by a taxi inspector. The passengers were unharmed, but District police are investigating the incident.

With state and local officials pushing for licensing, the companies have lately sought a compromise.

Uber and Lyft recently applied for brokers’ licenses in Virginia after receiving “cease and desist” letters from state officials — an approach that taxi companies say would still leave the drivers unlicensed.

“It’s like a general contractor who was operating illegally decides to get a license but still allows his subcontractors to operate illegally,” Kimball said.

Chelsea Wilson, a spokeswoman for Lyft, said the Virginia lawsuit is without merit.

“We are continuing to work with the [state Department of Motor Vehicles] and state leaders to come to a solution that preserves a future for ride-sharing in the state of Virginia,” Wilson said.

Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett declined to comment on the lawsuit, but he said, “Uber will vigorously defend the rights of riders to enjoy competition and choice, and for drivers to build their own small business.”

Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.
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