D.C. Council members will not move forward on Tuesday with a controversial proposal to set minimum fare for a popular luxury sedan car service, a major victory for Uber and their consumers.
In a legislative and political dance that resembled the pressure council members faced over street cars two years ago, Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the council will instead examine how to regulate Uber this fall.
As part of a comprehensive overhaul to the taxicab industry set for a vote Tuesday, Cheh included language mandating that Uber set a minimum fare no less than five times greater the starting price for a cab ride. That would have mandated a minimum fare for Uber of about $15, the price currently used as a base fare.
But Uber, a California-based company with a loyal base of customers locally, resisted the proposal. The company provides smart phone dispatched limousine service, which has become popular with young professionals.
The company repeatedly e-mailed clients in the District, who in turn flooded council offices on Monday with letters and phone calls in opposition. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) also Tweeted his opposition to the legislation.
Cheh said the provision was needed to make sure Uber and other car-sharing services do not “undercut” the city’s taxi cab industry.
“They are premiere service and the taxi drivers had concern, which is not diminutive, that there be some requirements that they simply could not be a taxi service by another name,” said Cheh, noting that the District has regulated taxis for decades.
But several of Cheh’s colleagues said they worried the council was over-regulating the company and stifling consumer choice.
“I use the service and think it’s a great one,” said Council member David A. Catania (I-At large), adding that he recently called Uber after deciding he didn’t want to wait outside for a cab in Columbia Heights. “Our customers are not the taxi cabs, our customers are the residents . . . I didn’t take an oath of office to support the taxi cab industry.”
After Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he would move an amendment to strip the minimum-fare requirement from the bill, Cheh agreed to put off the debate until the fall.
Cheh, who heads the committee with oversight over transportation issues, plans to convene a hearing on the issue in a few weeks. The decision to delay the bill underscores in part the growing influence of newer residents and social media in swaying debates on the council.
Two years ago, when then-council chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) attempted to delay funding for the H Street streetcar line, the council was inundated with a flood of Tweets and e-mails from those who opposed the move. Gray, who was running for mayor at the time, quickly reversed his stance.
When the council debates the Uber fare issue, Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) expects a spirited discussion.
“It’s difficult to get a cab where I live, in Ward 5, so people use (Uber) and it’s popular,” McDuffie said. “But cabs have to jump through all these hops and be regulated.”