Uber Prepares For Another Fight With DC Regulators

Just about six months ago, Uber won a big battle with D.C. regulators to have its on-demand car service approved for operation within the nation’s capital. But new regulations from the D.C. Taxi Commission could severely hamper the company’s ability to offer low-cost services in the district.

Last December, the D.C. City Council voted to approve a legal framework that legitimized mobile e-hail applications there, as long as those applications followed certain rules. It defined a new class of for-hire vehicles (taxis and sedans) that could use mobile apps as a way to connect drivers and passengers.

The unanimous City Council vote followed a year of negotiations with local regulators to get its services approved for usage within the district. (The very public fight even included a sting operation by D.C. Taxi Commissioner Ron Linton in which he took an Uber and then handed over a variety of fines to the driver.) Still, after a whole lot of back-and-forth, it seemed like Uber was finally in the clear.

New regulations approved by the D.C. Taxi Commission last week could be a setback in the progress that Uber has made there, however. Among other things, those regulations would require mobile e-hail applications to integrate with the payment processor that is used within local taxicabs. That’s a non-starter for Uber, which currently has its own payment processor for in-app payments, and it could mean the end of UberTAXI in the city.

Another set of rules, which is being considered now, would ban cars that weighed less than 3,200 pounds. That would keep Uber from offering fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, which would affect its ability to offer its lower-cost UberX service there. With the possibility of UberTAXI and UberX being shut down, the company would only have its legacy black car and SUV businesses in the city.

Other regulations that Uber disagrees with would require Uber and other e-hail providers to hand over data related to rides that were booked using mobile applications. According to Uber, another rule could give the Taxi Commission the ability to choose whether or not apps are approved for usage in the city, and unilaterally keep Uber and other services from operating there.

For its part, Uber has tried to once again mobilize its users to reach out to D.C. officials and petition the local government. It’s asked users to email and tweet at Mayor Vincent C. Gray, and has put up a petition on Change.org. That petition has already received more than 2,500 signatures, with 5,000 needed.