Vehicle-for-hire services like Uber and Lyft got the go-ahead from D.C. lawmakers Tuesday, making the District the latest jurisdiction to approve regulations governing a fast-emerging industry that has drawn ire from traditional taxicab companies nationwide.
The D.C. Council approved the legislation in a 12-1 vote, clearing the road for the smartphone-based ridesharing services to continue operations in the city. Cab drivers across the country have protested the companies, saying they skirt regulations that cab companies must follow.
Among the requirements included in the new D.C. legislation, drivers working for the companies must be at least 21 years old, pass criminal background screenings that include checks on driving history and sex offenses, and maintain liability insurance. The rules also ban the companies from accepting or soliciting street hails and require the companies to register with the D.C. Taxicab Commission, which will have the authority to enforce the regulations.
“We have established the regulations necessary to ensure public safety and consumer protection; however, we also want these services to operate in the District without artificial obstacles in their path,” said council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and a sponsor of the legislation. “This bill has been crafted to balance the multiple interests of safety, liability coverage, and the fairness of industry competition.”
Only outgoing D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who attempted to introduce amendments to the legislation to make it more friendly to taxicab drivers, voted against the bill. Among his proposed but failed amendments, the Ward 1 Democrat wanted to set a price floor so that the app-based companies couldn’t charge less than traditional taxicabs.
Uber applauded the bill, with officials saying the District’s new law could serve as a model for jurisdictions across the country that are also looking to regulate the fledgling industry.
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“With this legislation, DC has become a trailblazer in the transportation industry by embracing innovation, supporting consumer choice and empowering small business owners,” Uber officials wrote in a statement issued Tuesday.
Nationwide, the introduction of rideshare companies into new markets hasn’t always been smooth.
Virginia ordered Uber and Lyft to cease operations over the summer before agreeing to a deal by which the companies could resume operations as long as they abided by certain provisions, many of them similar to those specified in the regulations that passed in the District.
Last week, courts in Nevada ordered Uber to cease and desist until a court hearing in November to determine whether the company can continue to operate in the state amid questions over licensing and regulation.
Cab drivers, who have criticized the bill as giving Uber and other companies unfair advantages, protested ahead of the vote Tuesday. In the third such display, cab drivers clogged roads around the Wilson Building and Freedom Plaza in Northwest and honked in protest, later flooding the D.C. Council chambers as the bill was debated.
“Today’s council vote threatens the livelihoods of several thousand drivers and their families,” said Royale Simms, a member of Local 992, which is affiliated with the D.C. Taxi Operators Association. “Our fight is not over.”