- (Photo: flickr/alexbarth)
The fate of Washington, D.C.'s taxi industry created more than a little stir in the days before the country broke for the holiday season earlier this month. A somewhat contentious press conference hosted by Mayor Vince Gray, Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, and D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton on taxi-industry overhaul grew contentious with the interrupting shouts of taxi drivers and ended with drivers holding court for local media, as I reported at the time. These drivers refuted the official narrative advanced by D.C. officials and claimed that drivers' voices were not truly represented in this new overhaul, which will entail the installation of GPS, credit card readers, a uniform taxi color, and new charges.
The discussion was tabled until January, when the Council plans to hold a hearing on the new proposed legislation.
But in the meantime, Cheh, chair of the Committee on Environment, Public Works, and Transportation, has released a survey about the taxi industry that seeks answers on some of the big questions involved.
"What is your opinion of taxi service in the District?" Cheh asks. "Do you support legislation to improve taxi service in the District? If the District establishes a uniform color scheme for taxis, what color should it be?" Tan, orange, purple, red? Maybe yellow or silver? Choose any option you'd like. You can read and complete the survey here.
These are some matter-of-fact questions that will be relevant to the coming hearing. If enough people answer, Cheh may have a significant arsenal of public opinion backing up her assertions. This survey is, of course, informal and unscientific, but any data gives Cheh an advantage when talking about how the taxi legislation should evolve and change — the survey will give her some measure of weight. With survey answers, you see, Cheh won't merely be talking about how she wants the District's industry revised. She's representing the District's taxi riders.
Part of the survey's wisdom concerns the fact that many D.C. residents may not engage in the Council's legislative process. Countless people may have an opinion on the state of the cabs, the fare increases, and the choice of color, but the vast majority are unlikely to make a point of testifying at — or even keeping track of — the various legislative hearings. But a survey has a greater chance of capturing the District's reaction and will be potentially useful.
Although the proposed legislation falls short of reforming the D.C. Taxicab Commission, I wonder whether the Commission's structural realities will be addressed at the coming hearing. At Mayor Gray's press conference, Cheh said that both she and Wells would have preferred greater structural changes, and in her prepared remarks, noted that she initially had wanted "to put regulation in a special division of DDOT, and rates back into the PSC. But the Mayor believes that we have our best shot at reform now with the Commission under Mr. Linton — and I agree." The officials presented a unified voice on December 19, which had distinct advantages. That unity is the bill's best bet as it moves forward in its first January hearing. Yet the one distinctly excluded group, it seems, were the cab drivers present at the press conference. They were both upset as well as vocal, and I can't imagine their frustrations, from the new overhaul to thoughts on the Taxicab Commission, not haunting the legislation as it moves forward in 2012.
“We should not get bogged down in bureaucratic turmoil by spending more time moving filing cabinets than fixing what needs fixing promptly," Cheh wrote in her statement. "However, my Committee will remain alert as to whether progress is actually made and will revisit the larger structural changes as needed."
Expect an emotionally charged, headache-inducing slog of a hearing sometime in the next few weeks.