Will the Taxi Union Get the Courts to Shut down Uber and Lyft in DC?

by Sean Riley

DC Inno

Uber, Lyft and Sidecar were given an unfair advantage by the regulations approved last year by the D.C. Council according to the Metro Area Taxi Operators Association. The taxi union, which is affiliated with the Teamsters, filed a class-action lawsuit with six D.C. taxi drivers in U.S. District Court against the city on Friday.

The Vehicle-forHire Innovation Amendment Act of 2014 "creates an irrational, two-tiered regulatory system that unconstitutionally harms the economic and property interests of the Taxicab Service Plaintiffs and similarly situated taxicab permit holders," according to the lawsuit.

Essentially, the complaint says that it's not fair to have two regulatory systems for what are basically the same services. Ride-share companies get a competitive leg up because their regulations are looser and more relaxed than those governing traditional taxis, which makes the rules illegal.

"I’ve lived in D.C. and served the city for my entire adult life, and I could lose my livelihood because of this legislation," said taxi driver and plaintiff Ziena Abraha in a statement. "I have nothing personal against Uber drivers. They’re trying to make a living, but I am too, and a giant corporation headquartered outside of D.C. should not get to play by a different set of rules."

The lawsuit is the latest in a long string of battles between traditional transportation companies and ride-share startups like Uber, Sidecar and Lyft. D.C., Maryland and Virginia have all been dealing with ways to handle the growth of the ride-hail apps, with regulation the companies can live with getting passed into law in all three places. Not that the D.C. regulations are the only focus for taxi companies seeking legal redress. Several are still pursuing legal action in Virginia over the law signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe earlier this year to regulate ride-share companies.

"I work hard and I have never in my life asked for special treatment," said Eartha Clark, another plaintiff in the case in a statement. "So why should ride service companies get special rules and deals handed to them by the D.C. Council? It’s not fair and it’s not right."

Whether or not the court agrees with the taxi companies could have a big impact on ride-sharing. Uber has already talked about the D.C. regulation as a model for other places, and its durability before a judge will be an important test of that plan. If the rules for regular taxis change to match those applied to ride-share companies, the competitive landscape would definitely take a new form, but who would come out on top in that case isn't clear. Regardless, the taxi union is very open about its goals, even if its chances are murky.

"D.C. taxi drivers spoke up repeatedly in public and before the D.C. Council," said Teamsters Local 922 agent Royale Simms in a statement. "They were not respected; their concerns were not acknowledged; and instead, the Council rigged the game in favor or Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. We will continue to fight and speak up until justice is won."