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DC Warns Rideshare Users an Unregistered Company is Illegally Operating in the City. Here’s What the CEO Said

The District is warning commuters that rideshare company “Empower” is operating in D.C. illegally — and that riders should take precautions before using the service. You may be familiar with other rideshare companies like Uber, Lyft, or even Alto, a newer option. All of those companies are registered with the city.

But Empower, based in McLean, Virginia, has not registered — and D.C. issued a cease-and-desist letter to the company. That doesn’t stop anyone from being able to download the Empower app and order a ride. When News4 ordered a ride from Empower, the driver drove off instead of answering questions about the situation. According to D.C.’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles, the issue is all about safety.

“Since EMPOWER refuses to register, riders have no way to know if their drivers are safe, insured, and will take them to their destination,” the agency told News4 in a statement. “Additionally, riders have no way to make complaints.”

In addition, registered rideshare companies also have to pay certain charges and fees that go to the District — like a percentage of trips that go to fund public transportation. Empower is appealing its cease and desist order and says it is different kind of company, because it’s not transportation – instead, it’s just a software platform that drivers can subscribe to. Because of that, 100% of the profit of the trip goes to the driver.

According to Empower CEO Joshua Sear, the reason Empower hasn’t registered with D.C. is “the same reason that Expedia doesn’t register with the FAA, or OpenTable doesn’t register with the local health inspectors.” Sear says that drivers on his platform agree to provide the results of background checks.

“The drivers who are choosing to drive for themselves in competition with Uber and Lyft, who want to build their own business, pursue the American dream — those drivers are arguably potentially safer,” Sear said.

Some commuters see Empower as another disruptor in an industry that’s already caused so much disruption.

“[The company is] maybe a little entrepreneurial in some sense,” said Mark Mravca, a D.C. commuter. “And with inflation, maybe it’s a natural backlash against Uber, who took the first swing to begin with.”

And with the company saying it’s been providing over 200,000 trips per month in the D.C. area as of late, it’s a popular alternative. Still, D.C. says anyone caught driving for Empower by an inspector will have their vehicle impounded immediately.

Source: 4Washington