But the meeting underscored how the District government continues to struggle over how to best manage a rapidly changing city whose residents are demanding more innovative transportation options.
In the first major rewrite of taxi regulations in decades, the council gave final approval to legislation that will require credit card readers and Global Positioning System devices in all District cabs. The bill, which follows nearly two years of study and negotiation, also mandates that cabs gradually adopt the same color and that drivers replace older vehicles with newer ones.
“We are a world-class city, and the aim is to establish a world-class taxi industry,” said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairman of the committee with oversight over transportation issues.
But the council’s efforts to modernize the industry were nearly sideswiped by a public outcry over plans to regulate a popular luxury car service, Uber.
Initially, Cheh included a provision that would require Uber to charge a minimum fare at least three times as much as the starting cab rate. That would have mandated a minimum fare for Uber of about $15. Uber, a California-based company with a loyal base of local customers, resisted the proposal.
In the hours leading up to Tuesday’s vote, the company, which provides smartphone-dispatched service, helped steer thousands of clients to council members. After some members vowed to defeat the proposal, Cheh requested that the council postpone the debate until later this year.
Several council members said their constituents are turning to Uber — which charges about $20 for a sedan ride from Dupont Circle to Union Station — because cabs can be unreliable and hesitant to pick up passengers in all corners of the city.
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) said he recently used the service because he didn’t feel “comfortable” waiting outside for a taxi.
“If taxis provided a good product at a good price, they would have nothing to fear from Uber,” Catania said.
The decision to delay regulation of Uber angered taxi drivers, many of whom were already opposed to many of the other provisions of the reform bill, including one that 20 percent of company-owned cabs be handicappedaccessible by 2018.
Hundreds of taxi drivers picketed the John A. Wilson Building and packed hallways leading to the council chamber. After it was approved, several said they felt betrayed.
“We can’t afford this,” said Zecarias Berhe, 60, a 38-year driver from Arlington.