Getting into a cab in a major city can be a harrowing experience. Three New York businesspeople who were trying to get from Washington, D.C. to a new branch office in Virginia had an experience beyond belief. A driver with rideshare company Uber held the three against their wills during a "high speed chase across state lines with police," according to a report from the Washington Post.
Ryan Simonetti, CEO of meeting center and hotel management company Convene, and two colleagues had finished a meeting at the Verizon Center and were heading to their new facilities in Tysons Corner, Va. Simonetti, who describes himself as a "die-hard Uber fan," called for an UberBlack ride. That's a premium service that is supposed to provide licensed chauffeurs who undergo background checks and has a $1 million liability policy, according to The Legal Examiner.
It was soon clear why insurance certainly could be a good idea.
A D.C. taxi inspector was talking to the driver of the car they were about to use. Simonetti climbed into the front seat while his colleagues got into the back. He claimed that the inspector walked away with some paperwork and then the driver took off.
The inspector turned on his patrol lights and followed the driver, who told the passengers that "he's not a real cop" and then informed them that he had to run the red light. And so it began - the chase and the dispute.
D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton told the New York Daily News that there was no chase. "Our hack inspectors are not allowed to chase," he said, noting that inspectors handle civil violations, not criminal.
However, Neville Waters, a spokesman for the D.C. Taxicab Commission, confirmed with the Washington Post that there was an incident between an Uber driver and an inspector.
Whatever it was, Simonetti told the Washington Post that the experience seemed all too real.
The driver allegedly kept swerving through traffic, narrowly missing other cars, according to Simonetti, and said that if the inspector caught up with him, it would mean a $2,000 fine.
"It was like an episode of 'Cops,'" Simonetti said. "We've all seen the 'Cops' episode. This only ends two ways. Either the car crashes or the guy jumps out and runs. And he had plenty of opportunities to slow down and jump out and run, and he wasn't doing that." Simonetti said they drove for eight to 10 minutes.
The driver pulled off, the inspector - yes, the one who wasn't in pursuit - pulled ahead of the car to keep it from passing. The three passengers got out and the Uber driver allegedly went up an exit ramp the wrong way and took off.
"It was insane," Simonetti said. "I physically tried to force his leg to hit the brake. I ripped off his pant leg.... I said, 'Here's two options. You take this exit, or I'm going to knock the side of your head in. If we crash, we crash, but you're gonna kill us anyway.'"
Reportedly, the inspector had originally only wanted to make sure that the pick-up happened through the Uber app and not from the car being hailed from the street, which would have been illegal in Washington because the car and driver were licensed in Virginia.
Update 4:40PM 7/11/2014: Uber told AOL Jobs that the driver had been "deactivated" pending an investigation. As of this afternoon, the company said that it had yet to be contacted by law enforcement to obtain contact information for the driver, which Uber has on file. According to a company spokesperson, when initially screened, the driver had proof of a valid commercial driver's license and insurance. Uber also says that it runs periodic motor vehicle record checks.
This is the second problematic incident involving an Uber driver in about a month. Early in June, an off-duty Uber driver allegedly kidnapped a bar-hopping woman in California with the intent of sexually assaulting her, according to KTLA-TV.
These stories come as many cities and states consider whether they want the rideshare services to operate. Uber, Lyft, and similar companies use an online model that operates in a legal gray area. The companies and their drivers are often not licensed as commercial taxi or limousine services. The taxi industry, which potentially has significant income to lose, has been lobbying against the services and tried to increase concern over safety issues. Uber, at least, seems to be inadvertently helping their efforts.