The District’s cabs could begin setting their own rates, under new regulations the DC Taxicab Commission will propose this week in response to the growing popularity of ride-sharing services like UberX, Sidecar, and Lyft that enable people to turn their cars into vehicles-for-hire without going through the normal taxi industry channels.
Under the proposed regulations, first reported by WAMU, cabbies would be able to charge fares different from the city-imposed meter rates of a $3.25 base plus $2.16 per mile for passengers who book rides online or through a smartphone app. Since the ride-sharing companies showed up, taxi drivers have grumbled that they introduce unregulated competition into the market.
“The intent is to try to level the competitive playing field,” says Taxicab Commission spokesman Neville Waters.
If the regulations are approved, DC’s taxi drivers could sign up with one of five companies approved to charge non-metered fares based on time and distance: Hailo, MyTaxi, Royal1 powered by Taxi Radar, Taxi Magic, and Yellow Cab. Of those, only Yellow Cab manages an actual taxi fleet, while the rest are software companies that market applications to connect drivers with passengers.
The regulations would also empower cabbies to engage in “surge pricing,” the term Uber uses to describe its multiplied rates during periods of high demand, such as weekend evenings or snowstorms.
The proposals will be introduced at the Taxicab Commission’s meeting on Wednesday, but they might not be an immediate hit with drivers. “I’m not sure the taxi industry is necessarily going to embrace it,” Waters says.
Only rides booked through digital dispatching services would be affected. Taxis hailed on the street would still use the regular metered rates. About 17 million of an estimated 20 million annual livery rides are waved down on the street, Waters says, but the smartphone apps’ shares of the market continue to grow.
UPDATE, 5:13 PM: DC Council members Mary Cheh and David Grosso introduced legislation on Monday afternoon to deregulate taxi fares on rides booked through digital dispatch apps. Rates would be set by the dispatching services, not drivers.