The alternative car service, Uber, has gotten a cease and desist letter from the city of Cambridge just a month after Washington, D.C. tried to legislate the company out of its city. The Cambridge Division of standards claims that Uber's GPS technology, and therefore its metering, does not meet the city's regulations. "The Division of Standards is claiming that until the National Institute of Standards and Technology has guidelines in place for GPS location technology, we cannot provide our application to the public," explains a post on Uber's blog. Uber claims it has done "extensive legal research" on the matter and will continue operating there as it has been since last October.
Though this isn't the exact situation Uber found itself in in D.C., it shows the unique legal battles Uber has had to fight as it steps on the toes of, who would have guessed, Big Taxi. In D.C., the city council attempted to push the cab-ish app out of business by passing an amendment that would set a floor price for the Uber cars, setting that number at five times what the minimum cab fare is -- a move obviously motivated by fearful (yet politically powerful) cabbies, as The Atlantic's James Fallows explained: "A fight over a new competitor to the District's (often horrible) taxi service offers something I haven't seen in a while. Not routine retail-level corruption, nor skillful top-level favor trading, but instead what appears to be a blatant attempt to legislate favors for one set of interests by hamstringing another." This Cambridge situation isn't quite as blatant, yet Uber thinks the same motivations seem to be at play. "We’re not getting complaints about people who are not being charged properly," Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis. "You can imagine who are the loudest people questioning this. It’s not the riders, I’ll tell you that much," he said.
Unlike other app-happy start-ups, Uber operates in the very regulated, very real world, which puts it in the kinds of political situations other apps don't have to deal with. Cabs don't drive in the wild wild west of the Internet, where Twitter can suspend a journalist's account because it didn't like the looks of its tweets. Uber has said it looked into the legalities of its service before it went into the market and even said it would work with the Division of Standards to get its technology approved. But, as the D.C. debacle shows, sometimes it's a lot easier to navigate the Apple Store's rules than local politics.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.