The Yellow Cab Emails that Spurred Dallas' Uber Crackdown -- "We Are Bleeding!"
An NBC5 report last night shows just how desperate Yellow Cab Co. was to run Uber, the rider-summoned, smartphone-app car service, out of its territory. In emails dating as early as May, a lawyer for the biggest taxi company in North Texas hectored the city manager's office about citing Uber drivers for operating without taxi permits.
"Come on, get DPD to write tickets to Uber or stop charging permits to the cab company's (sic)! This isn't right. This is your area of responsibility," a July email reads.
In another seeking an update just over a week later, the lawyer pleads with interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez and Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata: "My clients are losing business, are suffering large financial losses. Please clarify the status of enforcement of the code and progress to date. We are bleeding!"
We already knew an attorney for Yellow Cab met with city managers about Uber, which apparently has been eating into its marketshare since its launch last year. In the meantime, as we reported in a recent cover story, Yellow Cab attorney John Barr sent a private investigator to pose repeatedly as an Uber fare.
It could have simply been a bit of intelligence gathering. Yet many of the Uber drivers who reported picking up Barr's PI were cited for giving those very rides. City staff later directed Dallas Police Chief David Brown to launch an investigation using undercover vice officers. In an interview, Brown characterized his investigation as a public safety fact-finding mission, which revealed that every driver his officers cited had the appropriate permits. Uber itself was cited for advertising an illegal limo service, but was found not guilty in municipal court.
The crackdown was followed by a proposed revision to city code that would have outlawed Uber's business model in Dallas outright. The item was quietly placed on the consent agenda. But when Councilman Philip Kingston discovered the revision, a furor erupted among Uber users on social media, and it was removed. Mayor Mike Rawlings pledged to conduct his own investigation.
As we reported in the cover story, the North Texas taxi industry, now largely controlled by two men, has a long history of calling its own shots in City Hall. The industry's backlash against Uber is by no means unique to Dallas. In major cities across the country, officials have attempted to regulate the company out of existence. In Washington, D.C., the council was chided by the Federal Trade Commission for passing harsh rules against Uber that seemed to have little to do with public safety.