While much attention has been focused on alleged scandals involving the District’s mayor, taxicab drivers complain he has ignored campaign promises to correct unfavorable industry conditions.

Taxicab industry activists said Mayor Vincent Gray reneged on his promise to address many of the regulations established by his predecessor that, they say, have almost crippled the industry. Several weeks ago, the mayor lifted the $19 cap on the amount drivers could charge passengers. However, it will be weeks before it goes into effect, said a DC Taxicab Commission spokeswoman.

On March 28, the mayor signed an executive order authorizing a $1 fuel surcharge for all taxicab rides within the District of Columbia. The action followed a recommendation from the Taxicab Commission to offset the impact of the steady rise in fuel prices in the metropolitan area on taxicab operators.  The fuel surcharge will only affect taxicab fares for service provided within the city and does not apply to interstate fares. It will expire on July 25. Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon Swain can repeal it before the expiration if conditions warrant.

“It’s a travesty giving that much power to the chair of the commission to repeal the surcharge. The chairman is part of our problem,” said Carolyn Robinson, 62, a member of the Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers. She added, “Why can’t we place a surcharge on passengers from the airport? Something is wrong with this.”

Stanley Tapscott, 84, a former member of the commission agreed. “Swain continues to rule like a dictator. In some respects, things are worse than under Fenty….”
In a July 10, 2010 letter to taxicab organizations, Gray wrote he would honor the 1985 law that gives power to the commission as a whole rather than one individual or the office of the mayor.

But cabdrivers said Gray has not lived up to that pledge.

“He just used us to get elected,” said longtime taxicab owner, William Lucas, 71.
Taxicab industry activists said the actions by the mayor do not go far enough and that he needs to:

Increase the number of taxi industry representatives on the DC Taxi Commission
Mandate the Commission set rate parity with that of other jurisdictions
Restructure the Commission enforcement system
Appoint a new chair of the Commission
Restore shared riding
Enforce existing laws to heavily fine illegal out-of-state taxi pickups

“The Gray administration will work with the commission and taxi driver representatives to institute the policies and regulations of the most benefit to both drivers and passengers,” said Gray spokeswoman Doxie A. McCoy.

Another burning issue for the taxicab drivers and owners is the possibility of medallions being forced on the independent small business industry. Proposed legislation to institute medallions was introduced by Councilman Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5) and cosponsored by Councilmen Marion S. Barry (D-Ward 8) and Michael Brown (I-At Large).

The legislation provides for a two-tiered system of six unrestricted and restricted classes. In one unrestricted class the suggested price structure ranges from $5,000 for individual and $10,000 for companies for each medallion, with a special provision that allows licensed District taxicab drivers with 20 years or more of service to pay as low as $500 to $1,000. The entire proposal would generate as much as $25 million.

“It’s not well written to begin with and quite confusing. Our concern is that there were no taxicab industry representatives sitting at the table to help craft such legislation,’ said Nathan Price, 67, chairman of the DC Professional Taxicab Driver’s Association.

Swain, the Commission chairman, is currently working on a counter proposal. But while rumors abound about the details of the plan, Swain has remained mum.

“I’m not saying anything about my counter proposal. It will be presented to the mayor when it’s ready,” said Swain.

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO