To regulate or not to regulate Uber

DC, Maryland and Virginia, in one way or another, have all had some issues with mobile app-based services that connect customers to independent cab drivers - like Uber and Lyft.

Maryland is considering imposing unprecedented regulations on the companies. Virginia ordered Uber to cease and desist. Uber was banned in DC before city council reversed that decision.

Most industry experts agreed that the introduction of companies like Uber are just the natural evolution of the taxi and transportation industry. The disagreement falls on the lines of regulation - should app-based companies be regulated like taxi cabs or left alone.

"The taxi cab industry in the District has had a monopoly on transportation for 50 years," said David Oberting, Executive Director of Economic Growth of DC Foundation.

And then Uber pulled up. Uber and other mobile app-based services, like Lyft, are now disrupting that monopoly. Uber markets itself as being "better, faster and cheaper than a taxi."

"The industry is undergoing a great deal of change," acknowledged Ron Linton, Chairman of the DC Taxi Cab Commission.

Someone needing a ride can pay and arrange for an Uber ride with the quick swipe of a smart phone.

"There's a market for that. The industry has to adjust because there's also a market demand for the standard meter street hail," said Linton.

The way to adjust, added Linton, is to regulate the Ubers and Lyfts of the world.

"The job of the Taxi Cab Commission is to make sure the consumer has access to what they want and that different competing elements are competing fairly with each other," said Linton.

Fair, said Oberting, would be less regulation. He argues that the introduction of Uber-type businesses are the natural evolution of the industry and regulation would be tampering.

"The taxi cab commission in particular has no business regulating Uber at all. It's just a piece of software. Uber doesn't drive any cars, Uber doesn't employ any drivers," explained Oberting.

Uber contends that their system is safe, transparent and it's drivers are properly licensed and insured.

"They don't care what we want to do, they have the way they want to function. Sometimes what they want to do doesn't fit what we need to have them do so we're arguing," said Linton.

Oberting added easing regulations on cabs would make them more competitive with app-based services, and the two might be able to co-exist.

"Anytime you have competition in any industry, it benefits consumers," said Oberting.


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