News & Politics

2 Years of Uber Fighting DC Government in 11 Minutes (Video)

A new mini-documentary recaps Uber’s turbulent existence in DC since bringing its popular taxi dispatching service to town.

Since arriving in the District nearly two years ago, the digital car service Uber has given city residents two things: the ability to hail a sedan or taxi through a smartphone app, and a famously open-ended feud pitting a Silicon Valley darling against a local regulatory regime. But if the last 23 months are too dizzying to recount in a single article, a local filmmaker, Rob Montz, has put together a short documentary on Uber’s tempestuous time in DC.
Uber Wars debuted earlier today on Reason’s website and, consistent with the magazine’s libertarian ethos, the narrative comes down squarely on the side of free enterprise. But Montz also gives DC Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton a fairer shake than the typical Uber partisan. Linton comes off as more an able bureaucrat trying to balance the interests of all sides involved, rather than the symptom of agency corruption.
Montz instead casts Uber’s struggles in Washington as a fight with the DC Council, which was barraged last year with e-mails and phone calls from Uber users who wanted the company left alone. (An effort that largely succeeded.) Montz talks to Council members and to a few journalists—myself included—who have covered Uber’s many squabbles with local government.
The film runs through this past summer, as Uber felt threatened by the newest regulations requiring taxis to accept non-cash forms of payment. (Uber won that fight, too, getting an exemption to use its proprietary payment system rather than one pre-selected by the Taxicab Commission.)
The Uber front has been relatively quite for the past few months, since the company said its newest product, low-cost black cars branded “UberX,” would be run out by DC’s regulations governing sedan service. UberX continues to be available to the company’s DC customers.
Watch Uber Wars below, and be sure to stick around for the end credits, featuring DC Council testimony by a wonderfully mad witness who believed Uber-dispatched cars could be used for truly nefarious purposes.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.