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Uber Could Save Your Life, So Why Does Virginia Want To Kill It?

My Uber driver got me to the hospital in 21 minutes. The app asks you to rate your experience on a scale of five stars. I wanted to give him six.

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To: Richard Holcomb
Commissioner
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

Dear Mr. Holcomb,

Thanks to Uber, a mobile app that allows smart phone users to order rides from local drivers, I made it to the emergency room in 21 minutes.

Last Thursday morning, I had a medical emergency. I called my doctor to make sure I wasn’t overreacting. My doctor assured me that I should go to the emergency room to get checked out, and he recommended two hospitals. I chose the one closest to my doctor and to my husband’s office.

I was stressed out and very scared.

I could not drive myself to the hospital, considering that my symptoms included dizziness. I did not think an ambulance would be amenable to my request: “So can you take me to Georgetown, please?” (nor was I eager to incur the expense). Taking a bus to a metro and walking two miles to the hospital was also not an option.  Instead, I opened my Uber app and saw that the closest vehicle was a few blocks away. My driver was kind and professional, as I quietly sobbed through the box of tissues. He got me to the hospital in 21 minutes. The Uber app asks you to rate your experience on a scale of five stars. If I could have given him 6 stars I would have.

On Friday—the day after my trip to the hospital—the Virginia Pilot reported that you have issued a cease and desist letter to Uber. Had my medical issue happened a day later—or possibly a few hours later—your policy would have harmed my ability to get to a hospital quickly and easily.

I am a new Virginia resident. I don’t have a Virginia cab company on speed dial. The Virginia DMV recommends that I wade through a list of approved transportation providers to find a ride. For a new Virginian, this list is decidedly unhelpful. The list is not of cab companies, mind you, but the names of the actual drivers. I imagine my panicked self the day before. What district is Alexandria in? Is this contact number the driver’s number or the cab company’s? How will I know if this driver can take me? Maybe I should just google a cab company?

Rather than get in an Uber car four minutes away(!), I would have had to google Virginia cabs, find a cab company that operated reasonably close by, call the company, wait for an operator, explain where I was located and where I needed to go (which undoubtedly would have included google searches of “what’s the address for Georgetown hospital” and me describing the nearest landmarks to my house), and finally wait somewhere between an indefinite to an interminable amount of time for my driver to arrive.

I have been a member of Uber for almost 2 years. I appreciate the variety of options Uber provides. Most of all, I prefer Uber to hailing a cab, because I find comfort in knowing exactly who will pick me up, have the ability to track the driver, and have an electronic record of my trip. I was a Washington, D.C., resident when the District tried to prevent Uber from operating in the city. I was disappointed that the city was more concerned with protecting D.C. cabs from competition than enabling D.C. men and women to access better transportation options. I am even more disappointed that Virginia is pursuing the same misguided policies as the District attempted.

Most of all I am relieved. I am relieved that my medical emergency happened when I could take an Uber to the hospital I needed.

As a current Virginia resident, I strongly encourage the Virginia lawmakers and regulators to end such policies that curtail competition, harm customers, and would have made a stressful medical event much worse.

Best,

Julia Shaw

Julia Shaw is a writer in Alexandria, VA.