Local Government

D.C. City Government Hates Consumers—Bans Cheap UberX Rides



I'm from the goverment, and I'm here to hinder!

That is the evident motto of the city government of Washington, D.C. Just last month, the economically ignorant city council voted to double the minimum wages for workers in big box stores. This particular city council stupidity has resulted so far in Walmart cancelling the construction of three stores in economically depressed areas of the city, and the company may nix the remaining three. 

Now comes the D.C. Taxi Commission (DCTC) which has just banned the new UberX service from the fantastic, absurdly easy-to-use cellphone-activated car service Uber. I am an enthusiastic Uber customer (it's my second favorite app) of its taxi and black car services. The taxi drivers I summon via Uber all tell me that they think it's great—among other things, they don't have to do as much aimless driving in search of fares off the streets.

I was looking forward to trying out its new UberX service which offers rides at lower rates than regular taxis. In Washington, DCTC taxis charge $3.00 for the first 1/8th of a mile, and 27 cents per 1/8th thereafter. So a four-mile trip would cost $11.37. The same UberX trip would cost $10.00, and you would have the convenience of summoning the car directly to you, rather than waving your arms at passing cabs.

The good news is that Uber fights back. The company describes what it is facing here:

Unfortunately, Mayor Gray's appointees to the District of Columbia Taxi Commission (DCTC) delivered a huge blow to consumer choice earlier today by passing sedan regulations that grossly restrict competition and affordable consumer transportation options. These regulations outlaw the use of mid-sized, fuel efficient vehicles from uberX. During today's hearing, Commission Chairman Ron Linton argued that allowing consumers to use Uber to arrange transportation using more affordable, more efficient vehicles like a Toyota Camry Hybrid would represent unfair competition to traditional taxi service. He calls it unfair competition; we call it cheaper and better rides for the people who live, work, and play in and around DC.

Regrettably, the DCTC did not listen to the Federal Trade Commission's advice to avoid "restrictions on competition" when drafting the regulations. Instead, DCTC chose to pass rules that, in DC Councilmember Mary M. Cheh's words, "discourage customer choice," create "an anti-competitive atmosphere" and "do not serve the goal of protecting consumers."

Riders rose up when the DCTC tried to stop Uber when it first came to town. Let's hope that another consumer revolt will force the reactionary DCTC to repeal its ridiculous anti-choice regulations this time too.

Just how out-of-control authoritarian and thuggish the D.C. Taxi Commission is was made crystal clear when Reason TV producer Jim Epstein was arrested and put in jail for video recording a public meeting at of the Commission. See video report below: