News & Politics

Virginia DMV Tells Uber and Lyft to Stop Operating

State regulators say the companies' "ride-sharing" services are illegal.

Photograph via Shutterstock.

Virginia is stepping up as the newest battlefield for popular car services like Uber and Lyft. The commonwealth’s Department of Motor Vehicles issued cease and desist orders to both companies today, claiming that they are violating state law by operating unauthorized for-hire ride services.

Both companies are purveyors of “ride-sharing,” in which private citizens offer themselves as drivers available to users of the companies’ smartphone apps. Sunni Brown, a spokeswoman for the Virginia DMV, says the agency is targeting UberX, while Uber’s other products like its taxi- and black car-dispatching services are operating legally.

“That’s not ride-sharing,” Brown says about UberX and Lyft. She says Virginia law defines “ride-sharing” as a non-profit enterprise. Drivers who work with Uber and Lyft are compensated for their services, with a cut of the fares going back to the companies.

In his letters to the San Francisco-based companies, Richard Holcomb, the DMV’s commissioner, writes that his agency and the Virginia General Assembly are reviewing the commonwealth’s livery regulations and may revise them to be more welcoming toward new technologies. He also slapped both companies with fines in April, charging Uber $26,000 and Lyft $9,000. In the mean time, Holcomb writes, Uber and Lyft should shut down.

Not likely, says Zuhairah Robinson, Uber’s general manager for the Washington area, including the Northern Virginia suburbs. (Uber also operates in Virginia Beach.)

“We don’t have plans to stop allowing people to have access to our service,” Robinson says. “We’ve been providing service to Virginia for a long time.” (The company entered the Washington market in December 2011.)

Robinson says she finds it confusing that the DMV would issue these orders when Uber is working with Virginia officials, including the DMV and lawmakers, to reform the state’s laws.

“We’re puzzled by it,” she says. “We have a business model that doesn’t fit nicely in the box of the rules that are currently in existence. We’ve been in communication with every level of regulatory body.”

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.