The Uber app tells the customer where the nearest cars are (Photo : Uber)
Uber, the application-based luxury car service, is running into legal obstacles put by lawmakers in several municipalities who say that an app downloaded to a smartphone is not a properly-regulated cost decider.
Lawmakers also cite a lack of proper licensing.
Uber was launched in San Francisco in 2010, and now operates in the metropolitan areas of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Washington, DC, Vancouver, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Paris.
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Customers enroll in the program by downloading the app to their iPhones or Androids, creating a profile, and providing their credit card information. From then on, when the user wants a ride, they can see on their phone where the nearest car is, and select it. A text message then tells them where and when the car will pick them up. They can use the car for as long as they want, and their credit card is billed.
Cost is based on time and mileage and is gauged by the GPS in the driver's smartphone. It is this that is the biggest sticking point for regulators.
On July 9, an Uber driver in Cambridge, Massachusetts was issued two tickets in a sting by the Cambridge Consumer Division. The tickets were for operating an unlicensed livery service and for using an un-regulated measuring device to determine cost.
Uber unsuccessfully appealed the latter ticket in an August 1 hearing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Standards (the division has no authority in the matter of livery licenses). In its rejection of the appeal, the division indicated that, though GPS systems may be an accurate method of determining mileage and cost, they were not a legal method.
"The major problem at this time is the fact that there are no established measurement standards for its current application and use in determining transportation costs similar to that of approved measurement systems for taximeters and odometers," the division found. "Massachusetts law does not sanction unapproved devices for use in commercial transactions."
The Washington Post reports that officials in Washington, DC and San Francisco have taken views similar to Cambridge's, regarding both Uber's metering system and its licensing.
The DC Taxi Commission took aim at Uber earlier this year, and the San Francisco Metro Transit Authority & Public Utilities Commission of California issued the company a cease and desist order in 2010 (it was then that Uber stopped calling itself Ubercab, to deflect allegations of being an illegal taxi service).
Trevor Kalanick, Uber's founder, has told the New York Times and numerous other media outlets that the company has no intention of backing down in Boston, San Francisco, or Washington, in all three of which it continues to operate.