From Alden Leonard. Contact him at alden[AT]borderstan.com and follow him @aldenleonard on Twitter.
The Uber conundrum took yet another turn this week as the DC Council briefly considered an amendment that would restrict the car service’s ability to operating only as a luxury alternative.
Uber, the tech-enabled car service that brings luxury cars to the doorstep of anyone with a smartphone, has been embattled by the DC Taxicab Commission since its launch last December.
Yesterday’s proposal was an attempt to bring the car service into compliance with DC law, and was the fruit of several months of collaboration between councilmembers, the Taxicab Commission and Uber representatives.
The sticking spot in these negotiations was a proposed price floor that would force Uber to operate only as a “sedan class” service. The price floor mandated that Uber charge a minimum fare of $15 – three times the taxicab minimum – crippling its plans to expand into lower-cost transportation services in the District, as it has in New York and other cities.
In a characteristically impassioned e-mail sent yesterday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick denounced the price floor, accusing members of the DC Council of stifling entrepreneurs, and calling on his supporters to reject this politically motivated interference (yes, he went there). Twitter-savvy Uber users took the cause viral, and in the 12 hours that followed, Council members received tens of thousands of Tweets and e-mails urging them to strike down the amendment. Many undoubtedly came from an online petition at change.org in support of Uber.
Yesterday morning, Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) announced that she would do just that, but expressed disappointment at the breakdown of what she believed was an amicable agreement. “Uber contacted me and asked to work together to legalize services like [theirs] in the District, and I have met with Uber many times, negotiated in good faith and believed that I had reached an agreement with them last week,” Cheh wrote in an e-mail.
Despite being caught off guard, Cheh stated her intention to reintroduce the amendment – likely without the $15 minimum – before the council. “I am flabbergasted but flexible,” she said. In a time when things move as fast as Uber, she probably has the right attitude.
In fact, that line proves all too true. Late yesterday Councilman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced an amendment to the taxi modernization bill recognizing Uber’s operations as legitimate under DC law. The amendment, which leaves out the contested price controls, was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Micahel A. Brown (I-At Large), David Catania (I-At-Large and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).