Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Seven key issues to consider as the D.C. Council debates taxis today

January 30, 2012 - 09:06 AM
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(Photo: flickr/manwithface)

At 11 a.m., the D.C. Council will host a hearing on how our city's taxicabs should "modernize," which to our politicians means everything from picking one uniform cab color to accepting credit cards to featuring GPS to better driver training. When talking taxis in our city of more than 8,000 drivers, here's seven major issues you should consider:

How innovation is implemented: Should the D.C. Council force specific technological equipment on all D.C. fleets or issue broader mandates with many ways to fulfill them? The folks at Taxi Magic as well as certain industry officials don't see taxis as quite so stone-age as D.C. officials paint them.

How D.C. politicians coordinate with taxicab fleets and their drivers: Yes, stakeholders will weigh in this morning. But is there real conversation and coordination as part of the Council's legislation? In December, taxi drivers gave the impression that Mayor Vince Gray and other politicians weren't including them in the process.

A question of taxicab color: Councilmember Mary Cheh surveyed more than 4,000 people about taxis and found people would pick yellow as a uniform taxi color, yet the Post reports Mayor Gray will push red and white.

Uber CEO Travis speaks to D.C.

The rise of Uber D.C. — and of regulatory force generally: The new luxury car service, only in the District for a couple months now, has its passionate fans and one major detractor in D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton, who insists the service violates District law by allowing meters in what's essentially a limo service. Councilmember Cheh has written to Linton criticizing his actions against Uber and suggesting they'll discuss the details further at today's Jan. 30 hearing. "Instead of penalizing innovation, I believe that the District should be supporting it," Cheh wrote. "Therefore, if necessary, I would gladly introduce and move legislation that would authorize the Taxicab Commission to license Uber and other transportation innovators so that they can legally operate in the District."

Linton fired back at his critics in a Jan. 27 Post editorial: "But problems that have developed over several decades cannot be rectified in six months ... It doesn’t makes sense to allow a company to set up shop in the District and operate without regard to existing laws and regulations, but we would welcome Uber as a compliant partner in the District." To show he's an equal opportunity enforcer, Linton ordered the Anacostia Cab Company shut down on Jan. 26 and removed 26 of the service's vehicles from the streets.

Uber, for its part, recently acquired the services of law firm Reed Smith, which insisted in a Jan. 25 memo to Uber's Rachel Holt and Travis Kalanick that the car service operates legally: "Uber is not an owner, driver or operator of any taxicabs, limos or sedans and therefore is not subject to regulation under the Act by the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Uber’s business model, which involves remotely matching customers virtually via a smart phone GPS application with sedan companies for whom Uber provides marketing services, but are otherwise independent businesses, is not covered by the Act as it is now written. Uber can forcefully argue that subjecting it to direct regulation under the Act it would impose unnecessary and redundant compliance obligations on Uber which would serve no purpose since all the drivers with whom Uber contracts already are subject to such regulations."

How much we pay for taxi rides: Independent of the Council's legislation is the Commission's December fare changes, which will remove many surcharges and raise the per-mile rate

A question of taxicab discrimination: Perhaps the Council won't address these problems this morning in detail, but an ongoing problem flagged by the Equal Rights Center is the way taxicab drivers allegedly discriminate against African-Americans and the blind. The Council's legislation includes a proposal for more driver training, which may help raise driver awareness.

Enter the wheelchair-accessible taxicab: Last week at the Wilson Building, Roy Spooner Sr. showed off one of the minivans that Yellow Cab and Royal Cab have tested in the last two years. Today expect more discussion of taxicab accessibility as the Council considers B19-635: The Wheelchair Accessible Taxicabs Parity Amendment Act of 2011. An hour before the hearing begins, bill sponsor and Council Chairman Kwame Brown will be holding a press event outside the Wilson Building with national disability advocates such as Mark Perriello, president and CEO of American Association of People with Disabilities, and Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living.

Want a taste of what we might see today? YouTube user JQHammers has uploaded extensive footage from the circus of a Taxicab Commission hearing that took place on Jan. 11. I was there to see Commissioner Linton repeatedly hammer his gavel and threaten to terminate the proceedings as well over a hundred D.C. taxi drivers cheered and shouted.

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