A Victory for Transportation: Uber Legalized and Regulated in Virginia

Alternate transportation services such as Uber and Lyft have changed the way we look at cab rides, but lack of regulation and insurance have caused many people to question how long these new businesses can last. Virginia is taking new steps to regulate and track the industry in an effort to improve safety and standardize practices.

According to a law signed by Governor McAuliffe in February of 2015, all drivers for these services must now undergo a background check, be at least twenty-one years of age, and have a valid driver’s license.  All vehicles must also be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) by July 1, 2015.[1] These rules mark a sharp divergence from previous heavy opposition in the region, including a lawsuit launched by DC cab drivers and a cease and desist order issued by Virginia.[2]  With no charge to register vehicles, these new rules pave the way for Uber’s low-cost business model to continue operations in Virginia, ending months of uncertainty over the future of the program.

These new laws are designed to combat safety and insurance concerns that have plagued Uber since its inception. Previously, anyone could drive for Uber and the passenger would have no way of knowing whether the driver might have a potentially dangerous driving record. In addition, standard automotive insurance does not cover vehicles being used for commercial purposes, and Uber’s original insurance policies did not come into effect when the driver was “on-duty” but had an empty car. Virginia has now required Uber to maintain a $1,000,000 in coverage on their drivers.[3]  Registering drivers and vehicles and the requirement of insurance addresses these concerns while allowing Uber passengers to know that they have some recourse to obtain relief if they are injured in an Uber or Lyft vehicle.

Uber, which operates on six continents and boasts more than a million drivers, has relied on customer popularity and general unhappiness with traditional transit services to fuel its incredible growth. Despite systematic complaints from established transportation companies, Uber’s service remains incredibly popular with its users, many of whom have acted to defend the company in the face of lawsuits and legal injunctions.[4]

Not content with the changes Uber has already made to the face of public transportation, Uber is currently debuting a new program designed to allow multiple users traveling similar paths to share one ride and split the cost. This new UberPool system is ideal for dense urban areas that produce many short Uber rides, and the pilot program in San Francisco already accounts for almost half of the Uber rides in the city.[5]

The transportation alternatives offered by Uber and other similar companies are a great way to save people the time of waiting on a ride and the cost associated with this type of transportation.  Uber may be a fad, but it is a growing fad.  As of August 3, there were 18,995 in-state Uber vehicles registered with DMV in Virginia, which is over a ten percent increase from July 17 when there were only 16,315 in-state Uber vehicles registered with DMV.[6]  The new laws put in place by Virginia strike a good balance between imposing enough regulation for public safety while still allowing this exciting new industry to grow and prosper, hopefully extending the benefits of Uber for years to come.