February 15th, 2012 - Open Knowledge
Feb. 15th, 2012
Can’t find a taxi? Uber allows you to hail a black car from a smartphone. The app uses GPS to display the location of drivers’ cars and how many minutes it will take them to pick you up. The driver calls when he arrives, and your phone pays automatically.
Uber has expanded from its base in San Francisco to other cities: New York, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and DC. But sometimes, city governments are less than welcoming.
“They’re operating illegally, and we plan to take steps against them,” D.C. Taxi Commissioner Ron Linton warned at a meeting earlier this month.
“What they’re trying to do is be both a taxi and a limousine,” Linton has said. “Under the way the law is written, it just can’t be done.”
Many tech startups are facing an unexpected challenge: government regulation.
Uber: The D.C. Taxi Commissioner aims to stop the growth of an app that helps you catch a cab.
Roomarama.com: Want to book a room for the night? New York state is trying to prevent you from using this online service.
Zipcar: The popular car-sharing service says D.C. tax policies are hitting users hardest.
This month, Linton conducted a sting operation. Using Uber’s app to hail a car, Linton took it for a ride, and arranged for inspectors to greet it at the destination. The inspectors fined the driver $1,650 for various violations and impounded the car.
Ms. Pries said it took two years to open the restaurant, due largely to the city’s morass of permits, procedures and approvals required to start a small business. While waiting for permission to operate, she still had to pay rent and other costs, going deeper into debt each passing month without knowing for sure if she would ever be allowed to open.
“It’s just a huge risk,” she said, noting that the financing came from family and friends, not a bank. “At several points you wonder if you should just walk away and take the loss.”
Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn’t have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.
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