As technology approaches seeming to move at a pace faster than the rotation of the Earth, hiccups occur along the way that have potentially seismic consequences. If a DC club-goer and nightlife fanatic in the DMV, the recent banning of Uber and Lyft in the state of Virginia is one of these unintended consequences of technology moving faster than the laws can change. Sadly, this issue ultimately may affect how hard you party and how much you go out, with the hurt potentially extending to the income of the very clubs that we enjoy in the DC Metropolitan area. If the state of Virginia cannot solve its issues with the developing ride-sharing economy, the impact on nightlife culture, though not immediate, will be significant.
The issue for Uber and Lyft is an issue that ride-sharing faces nationwide. Taxi and limousine services are heavily regulated and feature a series of licenses and insurance regulations that Uber and Lyft do not require. Thus, while Uber and Lyft succeed alongside taxis and limousines because they can serve all communities in an efficient, clean and comfortable peer-to-peer manner, they have also in theory been operation unlawfully since starting operation.
As a partygoer, imagine it like this. Say, as a DMV area partier, your favorite style of dance music is drum and bass, and while you like trap and electro, you want more drum and bass in the mix. Since traditional and well-regulated DC nightlife locales aren’t playing what you want to hear, you instead find a very unregulated warehouse rave that plays what you want, how you want it, and oftentimes exactly when you want to hear it, too. Let’s say that said warehouse gets very popular, and government regulators become aware of a) illegal partying, and b) a loss of potential revenue from licensing fees for the space. This is exactly what is happening with Uber and Lyft’s issue with the Virginia state government.
A statement issued by Lyft to In the Capital regarding the issue said the following: “many of the current regulations surrounding taxis and limos were created before anything like Lyft’s peer-to-peer model was ever imagined, we’re committed to continuing to work with state officials to craft new rules for this new industry. We truly believe that if we approach situations like this positively and collaboratively, we can work together with local leaders to greatly improve transportation access, safety and affordability.”
Of course, in a manner similar to our theoretical DC partying situation, Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner Philip Holcomb replied by saying, “I urge the citizens of Virginia to protect their families by using only companies that appear on DMV’s website as licensed transportation services. If it’s not on the list, it’s not recommended.”
The idea of potentially under or un-insured Uber or Lyft operators being involved in automobile accidents or other criminal incidents while transporting passengers is akin to going to said underground nightclub and being exposed to any great number of illicit activities or structural issues in the space. If the underground venue is not insured or licensed, the partygoer has no means by which to ensure that their legal recourse will be handled in a smooth and efficient manner. Thus, it’s not as if the state of Virginia is telling taxi service users to not use Lyft or Uber because they’re bad, they would prefer that people stick to better regulated means of transportation in the DC area.
Any regular DC nightlife fanatic that lives in Arlington County (or anywhere in Virginia for that matter) could tell countless horror stories about attempting to get back home from popular DC-area clubs like Northeast DC’s Echostage. DC-based cab drivers are fare-driven operators, and while one trip across the Potomac River can be a prosperous trip, it’s arguably much easier to pick up three separated fares (that could easily be worth more) in the same time it takes to cross the river and return to the city. Uber and Lyft’s peer-to-peer model almost assuring a driver service (more likely than not to suburban destnations) allows for a balance to occur in taxi services that actually benefits the existing cab companies who are oftentimes unwilling to transport someone to a relatively far-flung locale at a late – yet potentially high income – hour.
“Uber has been providing Virginians with safe, affordable and reliable transportation options, so the DMV’s actions today are shocking and unexpected,” Uber posted in a statement. However shocking these actions may be, the shock they may cause to DC”s developing nightlife economy may be more significant. If Uber and Lyft are taken offline in Virginia and an agreement is achieved that allows for a breadth and depth of taxi options in the DC Metropolitan area, then it’s likely the most worthwhile option. Just like as in dance music and potential DC partying options, when the underground and mainstream can unite, everyone benefits in the end.