When Ryan Simonetti got into an Uber car in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, he was expecting to travel the thirteen miles to Tysons Center in relative peace. What he got was a high speed chase that had him fearing for his life.
SImonetti is the CEO of Convene, a New York-based company that runs a network of conference centers. He is also a big fan of Uber, preferring it over traditional taxi services. So when he and two colleagues called an Uber car for a ride to the Tysons Center, it was business as usual.
"I use Uber everywhere I go. I travel all over the country, wherever I go I use Uber. I'm a diehard Uber fan," says Simonetti.
As Simonetti's group approached the Uber car, they saw an inspector with the D.C. Taxicab Commission talking to the driver. Simonetti sat in the passenger seat, with his colleagues in the back. The inspector walked back to his car, presumably to check the documents he was given by the Uber driver, Simonetti realizes in hidsight. Once the inspector was gone, the Uber driver started down the street. The taxi inspector turned on his lights and followed.
Simonetti asked why the man was following them, to which the driver replied that there was no need for concern. Simonetti says the driver then apologized and told them that he was going to have to run a red light. The driver raced onto the highway going well above the speed limit, with the taxi inspector still in pursuit. According to D.C. Taxicab Commission spokeman Neville Waters, the inspector attempted to radio for backup, but the incident occured during the 16 minute communications blackout that affected emergency services in the city. The driver narrowly missed collisions with other cars miultiple times according to Simonetti, but refused to stop, claiming he would be subject to a $2,000 fine.
"It was like an episode of 'Cops,'" says Simonetti. "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."
After attempting to get the driver to stop for around eight minutes, Simonetti threatened to injure the driver unless he pulled off onto the exit ramp and let them out. The driver complied, and Simonetti and his two colleagues got out. Meanwhile, the inspector pulled ahead of the vehicle and blocked the ramp. After the passengers were clear, the driver accelerated back up the exit ramp in the wrong direction. The taxi inspector stayed with Simonetti's group, and the driver escaped into Virginia.
Waters said the taxi inspector was only confirming that the ride had been pre-arranged and was not a street hail, which would be illegal under D.C. law. If the driver had not attempted to flee, he would not have faced any fines.
"Rider safety is our #1 priority," says Uber. We will cooperate with authorities in their investigation and have deactivated the driver pending the outcome."
Simonetti says that although the incident will not stop him from using Uber in the future, he is worried about the screening process for drivers.