Councilmember: Don’t Drive Uber Out Of Montgomery County

Uber DC, Flickr photo via Mike

Councilmember Roger Berliner on Thursday called on the county government to work with app-based ride service Uber rather than push the company out of Montgomery County.

It comes almost a month after Art Holmes, the director of the county’s Department of Transportation, wrote a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stating his concern that the company operates like a taxi cab company without the proper county taxi licenses. Holmes gave Kalanick 30 days to answer two questions:

(1) Why has Uber failed to obtain either a County PVL to deliver taxicab services, or a PSC permit to deliver sedan or limousine services?

(2) Why has Uber failed to require that its partner drivers obtain a taxicab driver identification card issued by the County or a for hire driver’s license issued by the PSC?

Uber is facing challenges from the taxi cab industry around the region and world. Montgomery County-based taxi company Barwood has been particularly outspoken in its opposition to Uber operating without taxi licenses.

Barwood President Lee Barnes penned a letter-to-the-editor in The Gazette claiming that Uber has an unfair business advantage because it doesn’t yet have to comply by many of the same state taxi regulations that Barwood does.

Barnes went on to write that competing against an unregulated Uber is exactly like a boxing match in which one fighter “has his hands tied behind his back and the other can do whatever he wants, even hitting below the belt.”

Barwood joined with other Maryland taxi companies in July to sue Uber, claiming the app-based car service is hampering its ability to do business.

Barwood’s Twitter feed over the last month has frequently included links to unflattering stories about Uber and the company has contracted the services of Montgomery County-based Chesapeake Strategies, a public relations firm that has also posted stories about Uber-related controversies.

Berliner said he recently learned about the Holmes letter from “Barwood’s representative.” A Berliner staff member said Barwood is being represented by Chesapeake Strategies President and CEO Ellen Bogage.

In response, Berliner penned a letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett to share his concern that the move might work to “drive Uber out of Montgomery County and detract from our aspirations to support innovation and innovative companies.”

“In my view, Uber represents the future. It is innovative. It is successful. It satisfies consumers by providing a high quality service at generally less cost and attracts drivers who are able to make more money. This is a winning combination,” Berliner said.

The District 1 councilmember said Montgomery County should instead revisit “our own antiquated taxicab regulations.”

“Our regulatory approach to taxis is as ‘old school’ as you can find anywhere,” Berliner wrote. “Just as in the electric utility world, new technology threatens a business and regulatory model that is out of date.”

Berliner, the chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, said he will schedule a hearing in the next couple of weeks with existing taxi cab operators, Uber and other stakeholders.

“Now is the time to give our local taxis the ability to compete with new entrants, not wall off the new entrants,” Berliner wrote. “I believe that together, we can create a model for a taxicab market that is more dynamic and customer-oriented, while still retaining essential regulations that protect consumers, operators and the broader public interest.”

Flickr photo via Mike

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