D.C. drivers experienced some brutal traffic this morning, thanks to a city-wide taxi protest. Taxi drivers in the nation's capital formed a caravan, crawling from East Potomac Park to Freedom Plaza, causing massive backups and traffic headaches for everyone else. The taxi drivers are members of the D.C. Taxi Operators Association, and their protest was aimed at e-hailing apps, like Lyft, Uber, Sidecar, and Hailo.
Last month, similar protests were held all throughout Europe, with the largest protest causing full-scale gridlock in London. Regular taxi drivers are upset that these e-hailing services are, in their eyes, going around the law. Because e-hailing services are not technically car services (they are technology companies), they do not need to have medallions (which are quite expensive) or follow the strict regulations of taxi and limousine commissions. Taxi drivers argue this gives e-hailing drivers an unfair advantage, and puts the safety of passengers at risk. Of course, it also cuts into the profits of taxi drivers, who lose customers to those who prefer to hail via app.
Today's protest in Washington ended at Freedom Plaza, where organizers delivered a letter and petition to city officials, asking for a cease-and-desist to be sent to the e-hailing app companies. D.C.'s next door neighbor, Virginia, has already banned e-hailing apps, as legislators investigate new regulation for the services. Virginia officials sent both Uber and Lyft cease-and-desist letters.
Thus far, D.C. has been welcome to e-hailing apps. They are even considering a new law which would bring Uber's patented surge pricing to all car providers in the District. It would allow e-hailing apps to continue operating as long as they have the proper insurance and safety policies in place.
The Wire reached out to Uber, the largest of the e-hailing apps targeted by today's protest in D.C. Spokesperson Eva Behrend offered this statement:
Washingtonians know that Uber is the safest, most affordable and reliable ride on the road. It's ironic that taxi companies have congregated on Freedom Plaza, when they refuse to accept the freedom of choice, flexibility and economic opportunity that the Uber platform provides thousands of partners and riders across the city.
Uber welcomes any taxi driver who wants to experience the economic opportunity and increased driver safety that the Uber app offers."
During the European protests, Uber took the opporunity to recruit frustrated taxi drivers to their side, offering premium payments. While they did not do this during the D.C. protests, they did get a boost to business. Because cabs were protesting (and making life miserable for travelers), Uber received enough demand for cars that it led to surge pricing: