Uber Runs Up Against Big Taxi in New York Now

Following recent legal snags in the Washington, D.C. and Cambridge, MA markets, Uber, the alternative-to-cabs car service app, is now facing the ire of New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission. 

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Following recent legal snags in the Washington, D.C. and Cambridge, MA markets, Uber, the alternative-to-cabs car service app, is now facing the ire of New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission. In each city, Uber has been called out for different aspects of unlawfulness. At this point the immediate aversion from the taxi establishment is just about a given. (In D.C. the taxi lobby almost got the city to pass legislation that would price them out of the market; the Boston suburb pointed out a violation of GPS guidelines.) This time taxi officials have said Uber will violate the "no prearranged rides" rule, report The New York Times's Matt Flegenheimer and Brian X. Chen. And on top of that, a separate analysis by the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade found 11 other "potential violations" including charging an automatic tip and not allowing for cash payments. As always, Uber's legal team denies the illegalities -- they look into these things before expanding to new markets, of course. "Prearrangement means it’s basically on behalf of a base," said Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in an interview. "We’re not working with a base." But no matter how legal Kalanick thinks his service is, at this point it's clear that the cab drivers of America are looking for reasons to push the competition out.

The cab drivers of the world would both agree and disagree with that assessment. Big Taxi doesn't like Uber around, but they won't say it has to do with increased competition. The same day that Uber announced its NYC expansion plans the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, a global group that represents over 1,000 cab drivers, issued what The Verge's Adrianne Jeffries calls a "fear mongering warning about 'rogue apps' like Uber." In it, there is talk of the apps "dangerous business practices" such as "an Uber feature that allows drivers to rate passengers. This feature enables drivers to easily identify and discriminate against individuals who may require significant additional assistance, such as wheelchair users." That's similar to a point the New York City cabbies brought up, pointing out that the app creates "two-tiered taxi system," which privileges people with "fancy smartphones," as Councilman James Vacca, the chairman of the City Council’s transportation committee put it to the Times.

The part that the taxi establishment will not admit, however, is that this has anything to do with competition. In the D.C. fight it was much more apparent with the taxi lobby almost getting the city council to pass a floor price for Uber that was five time the minimum cab fare. But, these groups have positioned these complaints as an issue about fairness. "The association emphasized that services like Uber should be subject to the same regulations as traditional taxi and limo services. To do otherwise would just be unfair to passengers, the association says," wrote Jeffries, paraphrasing the Taxi, Limousine & Paratransit Association statement. But it's hard to ignore the competitive element.

No matter the motivation, so far Uber has succeeding in proving its legality. Due to general outrage, the D.C. council opted to shelve the amendment. Uber resolved the cease and desist with Cambridge, as it had with San Francisco way back when. For now the issue remains unresolved in NYC, with Uber agreeing to let the city have a trial of the service for free. But, Kalanick not only sounds assured in his app's ability to operate in New York, but believes it's an inevitability. "The bottom line is the genie is out of the bottle," he told Felgenheimer and Chen. "I think the T.L.C. knows that."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.