- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2014

A group of eight taxicab and limousine companies operating in Northern Virginia have asked a judge to order ride-sharing app companies Uber and Lyft stop operating in the state, alleging that they have not secured the necessary permitting and have ignored a cease and desist order from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

The companies are asking the court to immediately enjoin the two companies from operating in the state and declare their broker operations unlawful, just as Uber and Lyft are in the process of taking steps to comply with state law.

The complaint, filed Friday in Fairfax County Circuit Court, alleges that Uber and Lyft are able to charge lower rates than cabs because they don’t require their drivers to pay commercial property taxes, buy commercial auto insurance, or have local business licenses; “and otherwise evade all legal requirements enacted for the protection or benefit of passengers.”

“We built our businesses playing by the rules and by adhering to state law and local ordinances,” said Spencer Kimball, the owner of Northern Virginia Checker Cab. “This is not about competition. This is first and foremost about public safety and these companies ignoring the law to gain an unfair advantage over their competition.”

The complaint is the latest salvo in a growing battle between such companies and cab drivers, who consistently argue that they’re being undercut by drivers who essentially operate outside the rules and regulations they have to abide by.

Earlier this year, the Virginia DMV issued “cease and desist” orders to the two companies, which have continued operations in the state. The DMV has received applications for a broker’s license and requests for temporary authority from both Uber and Lyft, according to a spokeswoman, who also said it would be inappropriate to discuss matters of pending litigation.

DMV is now giving these applications and requests careful consideration as it does and would give to any business or person applying for operating authority in Virginia,” spokeswoman Sunni Blevins Brown said in an email. “The Administration, Office of the Attorney General and DMV are encouraged that these companies are taking these first steps to operate in accordance with the law.”

The formal requests have provided additional information to support the companies’ position that they meet the threshold for temporary authority, she said.

“While we can’t comment on active litigation, I can tell you that Uber will vigorously defend the rights of riders to enjoy competition and choice, and for drivers to build their own small business,” said Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett.

A spokeswoman for Lyft said the lawsuit is “without merit” and that the company looks forward to solving it quickly and effectively.

“We have submitted our application for temporary authority and we are continuing to work with the DMV and state leaders to come to a solution that preserves a future for ride-sharing in the state of Virginia,” said spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson.

But the cab companies want an immediate halt to both operations.

“Defendants Uber and Lyft attempt to operate ‘above the law,’ and their continuing unlawful broker operations pose an immediate and substantial risk of harm to the Alexandria White Top, Fairfax White Top, Arlington Blue Top, Love Limousine (Stafford), VIP Cab Company (Alexandria), Checker Cab (Manassas), Prince William Yellow Cab (Prince William), and King Cab (Alexandria), and the general public,” reads the complaint.

State Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, Fairfax Democrat, is listed as one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The complaint acknowledges that Virginia code offers exemptions, like for ride-sharing arrangements, but argues those are different because they don’t involve transporting passengers for profit.

The Virginia DMV fined Uber and Lyft $26,000 and $9,000, respectively, in April for operating in the state without a broker’s license.

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