D.C. taxi cabs protest against UberX and Lyft, jamming traffic on downtown streets

D.C. taxis jam a street in Northwest, honking horns, in protest of services like UberX and Lyft. (Photo: Kristen Van De Graaf)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - D.C. taxi cab drivers staged a major protest in the district Wednesday afternoon, congesting streets and creating noise by honking their horns.

The drivers were protesting app-based services such as UberX and Lyft, which allow people in the D.C. Metro area to use an app on their phone to summon a car to them - usually within minutes - and drive them somewhere, and pay instantly through the app rather than fumbling for cash or credit cards.

Hundreds of cabs jammed traffic on streets in Northwest, creating major traffic problems.

Jesse Black has driven a cab in D.C. for 40 years. He was out cheering on the demonstrators Wednesday.

"They are competing against us for monies and that's completely unfair," he said. "Cease and desist now!"

Police shut down stretches of Pennsylvania Avenue as the protest created traffic chaos.

The cab drivers' union used the boisterous demonstration to deliver letters to the mayor and members of the City Council, demanding that the city shut down UberX and other services where private citizens drive their personal vehicles, acting as cars for hire, dispatched by a mobile app.

DCTC recently passed a new set of regulations which bans mid-sized, fuel-efficient vehicles from being hired.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles recently issued a cease-and-desist order against Uber and Lyft, saying that until the state figures out how to regulate the services, they must stop doing business in the commonwealth.

Uber and Lyft, however, have made it clear they intend to continue doing business, as they don't feel they are in violation of any laws or regulations.

The D.C. Taxi Commission sent out a statement about the protests Wednesday:

"The D.C. Taxicab Commission (DCTC) is currently working on updated regulations that will ensure a fair, balanced, competitive, and safe system for passengers and drivers. The District's City Council is also currently considering legislation regarding the role of private vehicles in public transportation.

In the meantime, DCTC will continue to enforce against illegal street hails and violations of the reciprocity agreement between Virginia and Maryland. This includes private vehicles that are cited and fined as they have chosen not to register with DCTC; and without proper registration they are operating illegally."

Uber issued a statement in response Wednesday afternoon:

"Washingtonians know that Uber is the safest, most affordable and reliable ride on the road. It's ironic that taxi companies have congregated on Freedom Plaza, when they refuse to accept the freedom of choice, flexibility and economic opportunity that the Uber platform provides thousands of partners and riders across the city.

Uber welcomes any taxi driver who wants to experience the economic opportunity and increased driver safety that the Uber app offers."

Salah Zekria recently became an UberX driver when he lost his job.

"I try to work and make living for my family and myself," he said, adding that he believes there's enough business out there for everyone - especially on a day like Wednesday, when cabs were parked in protest.