Don’t Separate a Liberal from His Limo Service

I spent yesterday with the various parties trying to pass new D.C. taxi laws. Sound provincial? Maybe. But the luxury service Uber had been moving into D.C., as it had been moving into other cities, by taking advantage of discontent over the dumb laws and low standards. Uber was able to beat a proposed price rule – which the company had previously been negotiating – by activating its social networks and bombarding local legislators. Councilman Jack Evans, who briefly introduced a favorable Uber amendment, held up his blackberry and told councilmembers that he’d received “more than 5000 messages” asking for him not to ban Uber.

The company won, and the taxi bill – opposed by a much more bog-standard kind of boots-and-signs activism – passed. Starting in 2013, D.C. cabs will have uniform credit card meeters, lights, and GPS systems. A reader points out that the cabbies’ story hasn’t been so widely told, but this piece in TheFightBack explains it well.

While drivers will have to endure the ads all day, every day in their privately owned taxis, they won’t derive any benefit. Instead, the advertising revenue will be captured by the Taxicab Commission and Verifone (which has reached agreements to share ad revenue with taxi owners in other cities).

Time and again, city officials promised that the new meters would come at no cost to drivers, but instead would be funded by a surcharge of up to $0.50 per ride. But at Thursday’s press conference, taxi chair Ron Linton said drivers may have to pay $300 each and possibly as much as $500 for the installation.

The bill passed yesterday actually mandates that the city cover all of the costs minus the cost of new lights. And I’m not sure how the surcharage will hurt business – the resulting ride will still be cheaper than competition, and few people are likely to bolt from cabs when they realize they’re paying slightly more. Anyway, check out the piece and other local coverage if you want an example of market pressure breaking the power of a protective cartel. This one happened less than a mile from the Capitol.