Last month, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles ordered rideshare companies Uber and Lyft to stop operating. But that doesn’t mean the companies or consumers are cooperating.
A groundswell of support for the companies is growing, pressuring officials in Virginia to allow them to compete with traditional taxicab companies.
Even though taxicab companies have the institutional connections in Richmond, Uber and Lyft have social media and consumer support—from people like Arlington resident Chris Wilson.
He’s just one of the many in Virginia who say they are happy with how Uber is meeting consumer demand in a way cab companies just aren’t.
“It’s just a better alternative that existing cab companies just don’t really want to get on board with,” Wilson said.
Uber was founded in 2009 as a venture-funded transportation company, allowing riders and drivers to connect on their mobile devices and see other people’s reviews about each other before agreeing to a ride. It’s ruffled the feathers of taxicab companies that dominated the industry for the past 80 years, said Marc Scribner, a transportation policy expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
And in a market where consumers now have a choice, they’re speaking with their bucks and their business.
“Uber, to their infinite credit, coming up with the two-sided rating system for drivers and passengers, creates a very interesting, self-regulating system,” Scribner said. “Every car I’ve taken, whether it’s Uber, Lyft Sidecar, the drivers are incredibly courteous, on average, far more courteous than your average cab driver. People are seeing that.”
But taxicab companies say they just want companies like Uber and Lyft to play by the rules. And Spencer Kimball, president and one of the owners of Alexandria Yellow Cab, isn’t sitting idly by while technology outpaces his company.
“We at Alexandria Yellow Cab have been watching this trend for quite a while,” Kimball said.
Sure, there’s already some technology out there like Taxi Magic, an app that allows you to order taxis from your cell phone. But Kimball looked all over the world—literally—to find someone to develop a mobile app for taxis better than Uber’s.
Kimball and his general manager traveled to the United Kingdom to meet with a company. It took some footwork, but Alexandria Yellow Cab now has a preliminary agreement to be the first company in America to roll out this kind of app service, he said.
“By late July, early August, you will see an entirely different interface for a Alexandria Yellow Cab,” Kimball said. “It will do everything that Uber and Lyft do that customers like, and then some.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with Uber and Lyft and the regulations, and frankly I don’t want to be standing around waiting to find out,” Kimball said. “Our job is to provide the best service we could possibly provide to the customer, no matter who is out there. So that’s what we intend to do.”
Social media presence, however, has been the strength of companies like Uber.
The day after the Virginia DMV sent cease-and-desist letters to Uber and Lyft at the beginning of June, Uber sent an email to its subscribers in Virginia with the subject line, “You have the right to ride,” telling Virginians they are committed to staying in the state and explained how the company exceeds the state’s background check and insurance requirements, and encouraging riders to tweet with the hashtag, #VAneedsUber.