Big taxi owner demands investigation into Uber hire

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A driver displays a smartphone app for hailing a cab (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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At 7:53 this morning, Evgeny Freidman, one of the city's most powerful taxi fleet owners, sent an email to Mayor Bill de Blasio's taxi commissioner, Meera Joshi, demanding a city investigation into Uber's recent hiring of a high-ranking city taxi official.

Freidman sent the email in response to a New York Times report that Uber, a taxi app company, had hired Ashwini Chhabra, the deputy commissioner for policy and planning at the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates the city's taxi industry.

In the email, Freidman described a meeting he attended with Joshi, Chhabra and Ethan Gerber, the executive director of the Greater New York Taxi Association, a Freidman-backed industry group.

"Dear commissioner joshi," began the email, which Freidman provided to Capital. "About 4-5 weeks ago, ethan and myself as well as ashwini sat in your office @ the tlc and accused ashwini of working for uber presently and in the past, and ethan actually showed him the same picture as is used in the nyt spot attached!"

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"On a day when the usa is filing criminal charges against China for hacking private companies and stealing their intelligence and as such it has become a national threat, I would insist as a major stake holder in this industry ‎that the tlc open a DOI investigation into this matter!"

By 9:47 am, Joshi had responded, writing,  "Gene- Thanks for your note, we will make appropriate referrals. Meera"

Chhabra is not the first Bloomberg administration veteran to go work for Uber.

The San Francisco-based startup, which is reportedly in talks for a new round of funding that would value it at more than $10 billion, has also hired Bradley Tusk, who ran Bloomberg's 2009 reelection campaign, and Stu Loeser, Bloomberg's former press secretary.

Recently, the taxi commission extended a pilot program allowing passengers to use smartphone apps, including Uber, to hail yellow taxis. 

Like all things taxi industry-related, the pilot program comes with controversy.

Some livery car companies oppose taxi apps because they argue they will destabilize the industry, which has traditionally been divided between yellow cabs that can pick up street hails and livery cars that can respond to prearranged service.

By allowing riders to prearrange taxis with their smartphones, taxi apps muddy that divide.

Some yellow-taxi medallion owners, like Freidman, also oppose some taxi apps, arguing that they are underregulated.

Also copied on Freidman's email was Izabella Vais, whom de Blasio recently appointed the assistant commissioner for policy and intergovernmental affairs at the taxi commission.

Before that appointment, she worked for de Blasio's campaign, where she helped raise prolific amounts of money from the taxi industry. Freidman was among de Blasio's top fund-raisers.

Uber had no immediate comment.

UPDATE: "Ashwini Chhabra joins Uber as our Head of Policy Development and Community Engagement," said Uber spokesperson Lane Kasselman in a statement. "Uber is growing at an incredible rate and we asked Ashwini to join us to focus on turning complex policy questions into smart answers and scalable solutions. We’re excited to have Ashwini joining Uber’s policy and communications team, whose ranks are comprised of a growing group of political and policy experts from a variety of backgrounds including campaigns, labor, advocacy and government."