(Updated at 5:25 p.m.) Nearly a hundred Arlington (Va.) taxi drivers crowded into the County Board offices Thursday afternoon, asking county policymakers to take action against UberX.
UberX, which launched in D.C. last summer, is a smartphone app that connects users with drivers who use their personal vehicles to give on-demand rides. It presents itself as a “better, faster, cheaper” alternative to taxis.
But in Arlington, taxi drivers and companies are becoming more vocal in their criticism of UberX. They say it’s unregulated, dangerous and illegal. That, and it’s hurting their bottom line.
Red Top Cab, the largest taxi company in Arlington, told ARLnow.com that the number of trips it dispatches is down 5-10 percent compared to 2012 — a drop that it attributes in part to UberX and similar services, like Lyft. Drivers told us there are other signs that UberX is siphoning off riders: full taxi stand lines and some drivers defecting to Uber.
“They’re trying to put people like us out of business,” said Charlie King, Vice President of Red Top, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. “We don’t have $300 million of Google’s money to play with, so it’s a bit difficult to compete. We do everything we can to keep rates for our drivers as low as we can given the cost structures dictated by regulatory requirements.”
(Uber has raised more than $300 million in venture capital, part of which came from Google Ventures.)
Drivers bear the brunt of the impact from increased competition. They pay Red Top and other cab companies a flat fee that covers the vehicle, maintenance, insurance and dispatch service — a fee that they say keeps rising. Meanwhile, with fewer riders to pick up, nearly every driver at the County Board office Thursday raised their hands to say that they’ve been working longer hours and making less money since the launch of UberX. Many said they work 7 days a week.
“UberX is a cancer,” said Daniel Berhane, an Alexandria cab driver who came to support Thursday’s protest, which was organized in part by the group Virginia New Majority. Berhane said he was working 10 hours a day before UberX. Now he’s working 12-14 hours a day and “even that’s not enough.”
“People are preferring UberX because the fare is lower,” said Syed Omar, an Arlington cab driver. “Passengers are telling us they’re taking it.”
“There’s less and less business,” said another driver, who complained about the loitering tickets drivers have been getting from police. “Taxi stands are full. We’re just driving around.”
Drivers and cab companies alike say UberX competes on an uneven playing field and should be subject to the same rules and regulations as the taxi industry. That would include requirements like obtaining taxi permits, taking police background checks, carrying commercial auto insurance, and charging flat, regulated fares. UberX, said Red Top’s King, is “unregulated and frankly an illegally operating entity… that’s doing its best to undercut the market.”
UberX drivers carry personal auto insurance and the company has a supplemental corporate policy, but regulators in Minneapolis, who are grappling with the same complaints from taxi companies, said this week that the UberX’s policy has “unacceptable” gaps in coverage. UberX recently began charging customers a $1 per ride “Safe Rides Fee” to pay for better background checks and car inspections, but an TV station’s investigation in Chicago last week found UberX’s background checks lacking.