Here We Go Again: DC Taxi Head Says Uber Is “Operating Illegally,” To Be “Dealt With”

Uber is once again getting attacked by a crusty local bureaucracy, this time in the federal capital of crusty bureaucracies — and its newest city — Washington, DC.

In case you don’t remember, the first attack was back in 2010, when San Francisco’s city transportation agency threatened the private car company’s executives with jail time and fines because it was operating an alternative transportation service. The differences got worked out, but Uber’s expansion into new cities means it’s running into more of these types.

The antagonist now is DC’s notoriously shady Taxi Commission. Its head, Ron Linton, made an offhanded claim during a public hearing today that Uber “is operating illegally,” adding that “we plan to take steps against them.”

Asked what he meant by local Gothamist publication DCist after the hearing ended, he replied “We license public vehicles for hire under two arrangements. One is a time and metered distance, that’s a taxicab. The other is a fixed rate by appointment, and that’s a limo. [Uber doesn’t] qualify under either circumstance.”

Uber tells me it hasn’t heard anything about this issue besides a tweet from someone at the hearing this morning (which was mostly about a bunch of other local taxi issues), and from news reports. But it said in a blog post today that “prior to launching we had conversations with representatives of the taxi commission that helped us understand the regulatory landscape and convinced us that the Uber transportation alternative was legal in the city of Washington, DC.”

Meanwhile, Linton told the Washington Post that he has “no record they ever approached our commission” about doing business in the city. “No one has ever reached out to me from Uber,” he said, “who are these guys kidding?”

Uber DC head Rachel Holt tells me that the company has spent the day trying to (re)connect with Linton: “We’ve reached out but have not heard anything back today, but we’re hoping to so we can start a dialogue.”

Linton, whose office holds broad powers over transportation in the Congressionally-unrepresented District, had even more more choice words about Uber. “There is no contract between this city and the Uber operation,” he explained to TBD, a local transportation blog that attended the hearing. “What they say is not true and they will be dealt with.”

Let’s review this Catch-22 situation.

Uber had tried to get approval for a service that uses GPS and mobile technology to provide low-end luxury car transportation, something that no one else is doing. But the license for such a service doesn’t exist, because the commission only offers ones for taxis and limos. So the commission would have to create a new license in order to be able to offer it to Uber. But now, the guy who is in charge of things like licenses is promising to punish Uber because it doesn’t have a…

Oh wait, was Linton put in place by a mayor who gained office with the support of various special-interest taxi groups?

Why yes, yes he was.

[Image of Linton via the Carmen Group.]