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A Sane Resolution Between Uber and D.C.?

DC-State-Seal2.pngThis past summer I mentioned the D.C. installment of the ongoing Uber-vs.-the-world battle. In the following months, as the Atlantic Wire reported, Uber (the on-demand, relatively expensive, smartphone-centric car service) has run afoul of taxicab regulators and existing taxi industries just about everywhere.

But yesterday, amazingly enough, a resolution to the hostilities appears to have been struck in one jurisdiction: Washington, D.C.! The exclamation point and related "amazingly" are because our beleaguered local D.C. government often lags rather than leads in this sort of agile adaptation to the new business and technology realities.

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The CEO of Uber, who was previously on the warpath against the city and its regulators, announces the good news here, on the company's site. The main elements of the new law, as he reports them, are these:

  • It explicitly defines a separate class of for-hire vehicles, sedans, that operate through digital dispatch and charge by time and distance.
  • It creates a single operator license for taxis, sedans and limousines and requires the DC Taxi Commission to actually issue licenses after a long four-year hiatus.
  • It sets new standards for price transparency that will benefit consumers.
  • And, above all, it brings regulatory certainty to the vehicle-for-hire marketplace - making it very clear that Uber and its partners, the licensed/regulated sedan companies and drivers, can't be regulated out of existence.
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He also credits D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh for leading the efforts to strike a deal.

So nyah nyah nyah, all you "real" cities with your fancy freedom-from-Congressional meddling, and your normal systems of self-government, and your other trappings of modern metropolitan life. We in D.C. may still groan under the thumb of an entirely unjust "taxation without representation" scheme, but at least we're solving the Uber question. Congrats to all.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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