Uber Exec Calls D.C.'s New Ride-Share Regulations a Model

by | October 30, 2014 AT 11:30 AM

By Paul Nussbaum

Uber executive David Plouffe, former campaign manager and White House adviser to President Obama, said Wednesday new ride-share legislation in Washington was a model for Philadelphia and other cities.

Meanwhile, Uber's defiant entry into Philadelphia continued to create drama on the city streets, as another Uber driver was nabbed by Philadelphia Parking Authority enforcement officers Tuesday night for providing rides in defiance of the PPA's ban on ride-share services. The car was impounded and the driver and Uber were each fined $1,000.

That brings to seven the number of Uber drivers PPA has stopped since Friday night, when Uber launched its UberX service in Philadelphia with free rides.

Uber, a San Francisco company, links people looking for rides with car owners looking for extra money. Phone apps allow riders to summon an UberX car, pay for the service, and get a receipt, all electronically.

Another apparent impact of Uber's arrival is a financial chill in the taxi market, as three more taxi medallions went unsold at auction Wednesday. Medallions, which are required for Philadelphia cabs to operate, had recently been selling for more than $500,000 in private transactions, but there were no takers for the new medallions Wednesday, with a minimum bid of $475,000.

That was the second week in a row the PPA has been unsuccessful in attracting any buyers for the first new medallions to be issued in years to augment the 1,600 already in use.

Plouffe, speaking by phone to reporters Wednesday, hailed Tuesday's vote by the Washington City Council as the kind of "smart, more modern regulation" Uber seeks.

The Washington council approved regulations that require drivers for smartphone-based, vehicle-for-hire services to be at least 21 years old and undergo background checks for criminal history, sex offenses, and driving history. Drivers would also be required to carry liability insurance.

Plouffe, now senior vice president of policy and strategy for Uber, praised Mayor Nutter's support for ride-share services in Philadelphia and said he thought Nutter and other city leaders were eager to find a solution.

He said the PPA crackdown on Uber drivers "doesn't send a good signal" and "is killing jobs, not creating them."

Uber's disruptive business model has been to enter a market first and seek regulatory approval later.

That cheers many customers who are glad to have a modern alternative to inadequate -- or nonexistent -- taxi service.

But it has upset traditional taxi operators and state and local regulators, who see the well-funded upstarts as unfair competitors ignoring ride-for-hire laws.

Alex Friedman, general manager of the All City and Checker Cab companies, which dispatch about 750 Philadelphia taxis, said the unregulated ride-share vehicles were a disaster waiting to happen.

He drew a comparison to last year's deadly collapse of a building under demolition at 22d and Market Streets, saying no one cares about regulation until an accident happens.

"But when the wall falls, it will be too late," Friedman said.

On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and an advocate for the disabled criticized the PPA for trying to block the entry of Uber and other ride-share operators.

Thomas Earle, chair of the commission and chief executive of Liberty Resources Inc., said the PPA should embrace the "technology and innovative shared-ride services that Uber, Lyft, and other companies are attempting to provide."

Earle said there were "countless riders with disabilities, including veterans, left behind by the status quo," with fewer than 10 wheelchair-accessible cabs in the city.

Plouffe said Washington's approval of ride-share regulations brought to 13 the number of local governments that have authorized such operations.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer