September 13, 2013

Ah, simplicity, if it were but thus life would be a dream. Unfortunately, that dream rests in the mind of Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua D. Wright, as evidenced by his Sept. 8 Local Opinions piece, “D.C.’s cab rules should put consumers first.”

The regulatory process is complex. The premise that the D.C. Taxicab Commission is preventing digital-dispatch companies from entering the D.C. taxi market is off base. Hailo, Taximagic, Taxi Radar, MyTaxi and Yellow Cab all have operating authority in the city. Uber, too, is operating. However, consumer interests encompass more than who can simply provide the most inexpensive ride.

Yes, street hails are being replaced by electronic hails, but they still account for an estimated 17 million rides annually. If we allow the fleet that serves these hails to be undermined, we will put a quick end to cheap rides and disadvantage a host of people who do not own smartphones or have easy Web access to electronically hail a car.

Critics must realize that the city’s regulations address sedan use in the luxury class. These regulations have been under development for 10 months. The concept of using less-expensive sedans arose only in the past six weeks, and a commission panel is working on regulations to cover these vehicles, as well as to allow ride-sharing to address the needs of underserved areas.

Regulating the vehicle-for-hire industry in the District involves not only these issues but also D.C. taxis competing against illegally operating cabs from other jurisdictions and individuals who simply pretend to be taxi drivers. Public safety is a statutory responsibility of the commission and is challenging in this environment. The current debate masks other exemption requests that, if granted, could open the door to unscrupulous operators. Fraud, identity theft and insurance liability are all significant concerns.

The regulatory direction under consideration would allow smaller and midsize vehicles to be defined in a separate class — with no disruption to service. No regulatory changes would affect the way the consumer signs up for, chooses or pays for a ride. The commission takes seriously its duty to make sure drivers are legal, vehicles are appropriate, consumers are protected and the industry continues to modernize and compete.

Ron M. Linton, Washington

The writer is chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.