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Wednesday Morning Notes

New leads in 1995 sexual assault case — A 49-year-old Florida man was charged for the assault of four female roommates living in Reston. [The Washington Post]

If you’re in love with Metro — Dying to snag a Metro-branded gift, t-shirt or souvenir? The M Shop, Metro’s new pop-up retail stores, opens today at Metro Center Station. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

The fight with Lyft and Uber — 
A Sterling-based company called Reston Limousine is fighting off its competition by giving its drivers huge referral bonuses. [The Washington Business Journal]

Reston Association assessments due tomorrow — RA extended the deadline to pay dues by a week after phone lines went down last week. [Reston Association]

Photo by Ruth Seviers

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Deal Lets Uber, Lyft Ride in Virginia Again

Uber X driver in Rosslyn/ARLnow.comfile photoRidesharing services Uber and Lyft can legally operate in Virginia again, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced on Wednesday.

McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring said the commonwealth has reached an agreement with the new transportation companies with stipulations that will allow them to operate in Virginia. The companies had been operating in spite of  a June cease-and-desist order after complaints from taxi companies.

McAuliffe said in a statement that having smartphone-driven ride companies is necessary for Virginia’s economy.

“In order for Virginia to remain economically competitive, it is important that we welcome innovative companies like Uber and Lyft and provide them with the resources they need to safely and effectively operate in the Commonwealth,” he said.  “Technology — specifically related to smart phones — continues to advance at a rapid pace, and I am pleased that we were able to work together to find a swift solution that will provide Virginia’s workers, students, and families with more transportation options.”

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles issued the cease-and-desist order to the companies on June 5 for doing business in Virginia without an operating permit. Uber and Lyft have continued to operate in the state, which has led to protests from taxi drivers and a lawsuit from taxi companies.

To welcome Metro’s Silver Line to Reston two weeks ago, Uber offered two free rides to users in this area.

McAuliffe’s office says it will study how best to permanently allow Uber and Lyft to operate in Virginia without disrupting competitive balance with taxi companies or scarificing rider safety. The study is expected to conclude by the 2015 legislative session, McAuliffe’s office said.

Going forward, Uber and Lyft must adhere to conditions set by the Commonwealth.  In order to keep their transportation broker’s licenses and temporary operating authority, the companies must comply or the Department of Motor Vehicles can revoke the temporary operating authority.

The conditions:

  • Extensive background checks of drivers, with immediate disqualifiers including convictions for any felony, fraud, sexual offenses, or violent crimes, or registration as a sex offender.
  • A review of driving history, with disqualification for drivers convicted of three or more moving violations in the last three years, DUI, underage drinking, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer, hit and run, or eluding law-enforcement, or a revocation of a driver’s license.
  • Zero tolerance for the use of drugs or alcohol by any drivers, and a suspension pending investigation of any driver accused of violating the zero tolerance policy.
  • Only employing drivers who are properly licensed and over 21, and vehicles that carry a maximum of seven passengers and are properly registered and inspected for safety and emissions, where applicable.
  • Rigorous insurance requirements, including requiring drivers to maintain automobile liability insurance, maintaining on behalf of all drivers an additional $1,000,000 of coverage from the moment a driver accepts a trip request until the passenger leaves the vehicle, and liability insurance for drivers who are logged onto the companies’ software but not providing services.
  • Maintaining documentation for each driver of his or her background check, sex offender registry check, driving record, proof of insurance, valid driver’s license, Social Security number, vehicle registration, and proof of vehicle safety inspection. Documentation must be available to DMV on demand to investigate any complaints, and must be available for periodic audits to ensure compliance.
  • Paying any previously assessed civil penalties for non-compliance and dropping any appeals, which both companies have already done.
  • Features to help customers identify their driver and vehicle, including from the outside of the vehicle.
  • Drivers notifying the companies of any change in their license status, vehicle registration, insurance, or any arrest for a crime that would disqualify them from being a driver.
  • Rate transparency and documentation.
  • Companies advising drivers of their need to comply with applicable tax laws.
  • Only accepting rides booked through the companies’ mobile device apps, not street hails.
  • Companies maintaining a Virginia transportation broker’s license.

Uber and Lyft authorities said they are looking forward to resuming a relationship with Virginia.

“Thanks to the leadership of Governor McAuliffe and Attorney General Herring for putting consumers first and embracing innovation, choice and opportunity,” said Justin Kintz, Uber’s public policy representative.

File photo of UberX car

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Free This Week: UberX Rides in Reston, Tysons

Uberx free ride area through July 24

It’s a big week for transportation in the Tysons Corner-Reston corridor as Metro’s Silver Line opens Saturday.

Rideshare app Uber is getting involved too. Through Thursday, all uberX rides from Tysons to Reston (or vice versa) and anywhere in the zone (see graphic) are free.

Visit the Uber blog for more information, but here are the basics:

  • Enter the promo code SILVERLINE by logging into your account here or in the app. You only need to enter the code one time to unlock your two free uberX rides.
  • Between July 21 and July 24 at 11:59 p.m, begin or end your uberX trip from Reston to Tysons and your ride will automatically be free up to $30 (limit two rides).
  • Even after your two free rides, uberX fares are 25 percent cheaper the rest of the summer.

There are some other local perks too. Show your Uber receipt for discounts:

Graphic by Uber

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Op-Ed: ‘Everyone Should Be Concerned With Uber X’

Uber X driver in Rosslyn/ARLnow.comfile photoThis is an op-ed from S. John Massoud, Vice-President of Dulles Airport Taxi and Arlington Blue Top Cabs.

For the past several months, I have been reading and hearing about how my industry has been holding back Uber and other ride sharing apps from being allowed to operate. It is time to clear the record about some falsehoods and other spin being put out by these ride sharing apps and those who are speaking on behalf of the ride sharing apps.

The taxi industry in Virginia has no issue with Uber and other ride sharing apps being allowed to operate. To the contrary, we are very proud of our industry and the job that we do transporting passengers from one location to another. We fear no competition. However everyone should be concerned with the concept of Uber X.

For those of you who do not know what Uber X is, it is a low-cost ride sharing service in which a passenger calls for an unlicensed driver to pick them up in their private vehicle and is transported in that vehicle. The average Uber passenger does not really understand the inherent dangers of this system. And they are as follows:

1. Uber X drivers carry no commercial insurance, only standard vehicle insurance. Meaning that if an Uber passenger is injured while taking a trip, they will not be covered by the driver’s insurance as the driver is using his/her private vehicle for commercial purposes while not having commercial insurance. And while Uber states they have $1 million dollar insurance coverage on all of their vehicles, such insurance is not available on the open market. And Uber has not filed to be self insured under the laws of Virginia, meaning each Virginia passenger in an Uber X vehicle is being transported in an uninsured motor vehicle.  (for those of you who think I am making this up, talk to the family of the 6-year-old girl in San Francisco who was run over by an Uber X driver last year.)

2. Uber states that their Uber X drivers all must pass “criminal background checks.” Yet there is no proof of this, only Uber’s stating they do background checks.  Most likely, if Uber is doing “background checks” on Uber X drivers it is an “internet check” which only gives a very limited and incomplete check. Internet background checks often do not show many misdemeanor convictions or local code convictions. And again all that anyone has is Uber’s word that they do these checks. Unlike Arlington and Fairfax, where the Police Department gets an FBI and State check of each driver’s background showing any and all local, state, or federal convictions and or pending charges. Finger printing of potential drivers would eliminate many issues, yet Uber does not and will not do fingerprinting for Uber X drivers.

3.  Uber and Lyft were given “cease and desist” orders by the DMV only because they made no attempt to file proper licenses with the DMV. The paperwork necessary for Uber and Lyft to file is very simple to fill out and the filing fees are not prohibitive. They just refused to do so. Whether this was done for PR moves (to garner sympathy) or because of corporate arrogance is something we will never know.

4. Uber has no training program for the X drivers and as most Uber X drivers have never passed any type of test showing local road proficiency, new Uber X drivers often have no idea what they are doing. And those of you who have Garmin or a Iphone/DROID GPS know that these are not always accurate.

5. Uber is a worldwide conglomerate which has received in excess of $1.5 billion dollars from Google, Amazon  and other large entities. Where most taxicab firms are local mom-and-pop owned businesses (many of these are minority owned). If taxicab companies have any political pull in localities, it is because these businesses are locally owned and the fleet owners are active in their local communities. Where Uber is already throwing what will be massive amounts of money into Richmond to change legislation which is friendly towards them. Now I ask you, who is the bully on the block? The local mom-and-pop owned business, or the 800 lb. gorilla in the room with $1.5 billion backing them up?

6.  Uber X is now contracting with drivers who have been rejected by Arlington, Fairfax, and the Washington Flyer. Many of these drivers have been rejected for reasons from having poor driving records to having multiple misdemeanors and felonies in their background (none of which were picked up by Uber’s “background check system”).

I am not saying that our industry is perfect. And before anyone calls me a “crony capitalist” I will be the first to admit the industry needs to modernize. More and more local taxicab companies are becoming app based. No one doubts now that app based transportation is the way of the future. But do remember that Uber does not transport disabled passengers — only local cab companies do this.

Uber can transport or refuse to transport anyone it chooses, where your local cab company must take you or lose it’s right to operate. If you have a problem with your local taxicab company, in either Fairfax or Arlington or at Dulles Airport or even at Reagan Airport, and you do not like the response you get from the cab company, you can call the locality or the Airports Authority and your complaint will be heard and you will get some type of favorable action taken on your behalf.  Uber can not say that, because they have nothing governing them other than themselves.

Something on your mind? Send letters and op-eds to [email protected].

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