By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va.— As the regulatory war between new ride-share companies and the well-established taxi industry rages on, another lobbying and campaign finance war is happening behind the lines.
The Virginia DMV’s order for Uber and Lyft to cease all operations in the commonwealth is the latest showing of the taxicab industry’s influence in the commonwealth. It isn’t the first time the industry has used its heavy bumpers to persuade Virginia politicians.
“You have a very cozy monopoly that they have benefited from these protectionism regulations for a long time, and they’re absolutely not happy that Uber, Lyft and others are cutting into their turf, as they see it,” said Marc Scribner, a transportation research fellow with the free-market-minded Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Since 1996, the Virginia Taxicab Association has donated nearly half a million dollars to Virginia politicians, and Republicans have benefited the most, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. The industry has donated about 57 percent of that to Republicans, 40 percent to Democrats and the rest to other individuals and causes.
Most of those campaign donations are spread around the General Assembly, with Republican Speaker of the House Bill Howell benefiting the most. He’s received a little more than $13,000 from the association.
The Virginia Taxicab Association has also retained four registered lobbyists as of May 2014. Over the past few years the group has focused largely on texting and driving legislation, at least according to what they’ve reported.
Local taxicab companies such as Red Top Cab Company to Diamond Transportation Services funnel money into the Virginia Taxicab Association, which then donates to state politicians who influence policy. Association representative Charlie King did not return Watchdog.org’s request for comment.
When the Virginia DMV sent cease-and-desist letters to Uber and Lyft at the beginning of June, Virginia DMV spokeswoman Sunni Blevins Brown confirmed a “number of transportation companies, including taxis, have contacted DMV regarding this matter.” The DMV has already fined Uber and Lyft drivers $26,000 and $9,000, respectively.
Virginia law allows ride sharing but not ride sharing for profit, and thus, Uber’s operation in the commonwealth is illegal, according to Virginia DMV Commissioner Robert Holcomb.
Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau.