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LEGAL ISSUES

Inside Uber's Latest Taxi Launch

Armed with a new transportation bill that's still awaiting the mayor's signature, the sedan-hailing app now calls certain cabs in Washington, D.C. Here's how it happened.

Standing on the corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street, right arm held high? That's so last year.

Uber, the San Francisco-based technology company behind the "classy-ride"-hailing application of the same name, launched UberTaxi on Monday in the Dictrict of Columbia. The debut comes after months of legal and political wrangling with local officials over its right to operate. Now Uber says it's legal for third-party companies to digitally dispatch not only luxury sedans, but also cabs, in Washington, D.C.

That's due in part to the city council's December 4 passage of a legislative framework that essentially allows Uber and other taxi- and sedan-hailing services to operate. Uber helped spur the creation of that bill, which Mayor Vincent Grey has yet to sign. (The John Hancock is something of a technicality, because in Washington, D.C., a bill with council approval automatically becomes law after 10 business days if the mayor has neither signed nor vetoed it.)

In a blog post, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said the bill should be considered "a model for cities across the country who are looking at ways to update their transportation laws for the 21st century." 

He continued: "The law is pro-consumer and pro-innovation; it's pro-small-business, pro-driver, and progressive."

For a rider, UberTaxi will feel like a hybrid of Uber and, well, taking a cab. Taxi is now one option when opening up the Uber app--black car service remains the default. When a hailed taxi arrives, the driver starts her meter per usual, but the rider pays that fare--plus a $2 dispatch fee and a 20% gratuity--through the Uber app. 

Riders in the D.C. metropolitain area have been able to hail a sedan through Uber for more than a year. UberTaxi can only be used within in the district--not Virginia or Maryland--and supply is limited, for now. "Many taxis don't fit Uber standards, so we are curating our supply pretty carefully," an Uber blog post reads.

Uber's general manager in Washington, D.C., Rachel Holt, tells Inc.: "We have signed up hundreds of cabs, and will sign up as many as we can to meet demand." 

UberTaxi also operates in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Toronto.

As old city regulations dictating frameworks for taxi and sedan hailing, pricing, and geography crumble around the country, plenty of companies are vying for roles in this new transit-dispatch space.

Washington, D.C., which had some of the most progressive taxi laws in the country, even before the new bill, is still a notoriously difficult place to find and hail a cab. So it's an interesting city for watching the competition (and there's plenty) play out. HitchRide already operates there, as does TaxiMagic and myTaxi. Hailo is planning to launch soon.

Holt says: "The launch of UberTaxi in Washington means more another reliable and convenient transportation option for thousands of Washingtonians and the millions of people who visit our nation's capital."

Next stop: New York City. Look for both Uber and Hailo to launch for New Yorkers in February.

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Last updated: Jan 14, 2013

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.




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