WASHINGTON – Tuesday afternoon an Uber Black driver took three passengers for a wild ride after the driver fled a D.C. taxi inspector and traveled into Virginia.
The passengers climbed into an Uber car with Virginia plates Tuesday as the inspector was asking for documents to confirm that the driver hadn’t accepted a street hail and had instead used the Uber app to set up the pickup. Only taxis can accept street hails in the District, says Neville Waters, public information officer for the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
The inspector also wanted to make sure the Uber car was returning to Virginia and not dropping off the riders at another location in D.C. Instead of cooperating with the inspector, the Uber driver took off at a high rate of sped, Waters says.
The inspector followed the Uber car as it entered the 9th Street Tunnel toward Interstate 395 and the Virginia line. The unmarked Uber car was driving recklessly, according to the inspector.
The car took one of the first Virginia exits and let out the passengers, then backed up an exit ramp and re-entered the highway. The driver has not been accounted for, Waters says.
The inspector helped the passengers find a taxi so they could continue on their way, he says.
“They had been in distress and calling for help,” he says.
Because of a power outage at the District’s communication center, police and other District radios were inoperable. And the inspector was not able to reach police while the car sped away, Waters says.
A Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman says officers are looking into the incident.
In a statement to WTOP, Uber says that rider safety is its top priority and that the company will cooperate in any investigation. The driver has been deactivated pending the outcome of that review.
The Uber Black driver was commercially licensed and registered in Virginia, according to Uber.
WTOP could not directly reach the passengers involved for comment. However one of the passengers, Ryan Simonetti, tweeted after the incident.
— Ryan W Simonetti (@rwsimonetti) July 8, 2014
He later released a statement saying he was a “dedicated” Uber customer but hoped the company had learned from the incident.
“We experienced an unfortunate and dangerous incident with an Uber driver and we are very grateful that we emerged from this experience safely, but quite shaken.”
Simonetti’s company Convene runs a conference center in Tysons Corner, where he and his colleagues were headed when they ordered an Uber car from downtown D.C.
D.C. officials don’t know why the driver took off.
If the driver had accepted a street hail, the District could have impounded his vehicle and he could have faced infractions for any other traffic violations related to his insurance or license.
“This is why it was so odd, is that it was an actual electronic dispatch. He was taking the person from D.C. to Virginia. On the surface, everything was legit,” Waters says. “They would have been on their way.”
Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have come under fire in D.C. and Virginia for violating existing regulations for taxis and limos. Virginia has sent cease and desist notices to both companies, which said they planned to continue operating.