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Uber snags former NY taxi regulator to lead policy

Startup's new hire, former taxi commissioner Ashwini Chabra, has a history of connecting the public and private sectors.

Taxis protesting "VTC" car services like Uber or AlloCab blocked traffic in Paris.
Taxis protesting "VTC" car services like Uber or AlloCab blocked traffic in Paris. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET of CaBoMaN238/Twitter

Former New York taxi commissioner Ashwini Chabra has stepped in to lead Uber's policy development team, the on-demand car service announced Tuesday. His experience in both tech and government could help smooth over any public sector clashes as the startup continues to expand.

Chabra, a deputy commissioner on the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, started work at Uber on Tuesday. Prior to his 4-year stint as a commissioner, Chabra was on a business team for tech/media company Axiom and a liaison to the deputy mayor of New York City, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Uber, which is known for its head-butting with the government as much as its speedy growth, said in a statement that Chabra will serve as its Head of Policy Development and Community Engagement, focusing on "turning complex policy questions into smart answers and scalable solutions."

Uber, which created an app that lets users order a car or taxi on their smartphones, recently launched in its 100th city globally. It runs several different services, including a peer-to-peer network called UberX. In that category, where drivers drive their personal cars, it has plenty of competition, including the much quirkier Lyft, which provides an on-demand peer-to-peer car service in 60 US cities.

These types of services have caused a lot of angst for the taxi industry. In New York in particular, this issue has been heated one, with taxi leaders stopping Uber and other car hailing apps from entering the market initially. Uber was able to prevail and now runs its peer-to-peer service using drivers who are licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission. The distinction is important because in other cities, like San Francisco, peer-to-peer drivers do not need licenses from their local taxi commission.

As Uber continues to grow, Chabra's expertise could come in handy as the company navigates more regulation in New York and beyond. CEO Travis Kalanick has long said he wants to get into more highly regulated markets, like Miami and Las Vegas, where the taxi industry has a major presence.