Prince George’s taxicab drivers rally for fares at Gaylord National Resort

June 14, 2013
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD- MAY 31, 2013: One of the new private car service vehicles sat in front of the Residence Inn across from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on May 31, 2013 in National Harbor, MD.(Photo by Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)
Cabdrivers say the new private car service at  National Harbor will hurt their business. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)

More than 75 taxi drivers rallied Friday morning outside the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor to protest the resort’s decision to bring in a new private car service for guests.

Taxi drivers say the new cars would mean fewer fares for county cabbies who flocked to the Prince George’s County resort after it opened five years ago. The protesters said they are fighting for the right to pick up customers at Gaylord National, the largest hotel on the East Coast with almost 2,000 rooms.

Gaylord said the new service, provided by Veolia Transportation, is a direct response to feedback from guests. The resort company said guests have complained about language barriers, route choices and the unpredictability of the meter system in the cabs. Visitors have also requested “high-quality personal transportation service with clean vehicles, courteous and knowledgeable drivers and reasonable, flat-rate fares,” Gaylord said.

Veolia already offers luxury car service at Gaylord.

Friday morning the drivers gathered outside the hotel chanting “What do we want? Taxi stand! When do we want it? Now!.”

“Today is a sad day for Prince George’s taxicab drivers, local cab companies and Gaylord customers,” said Amanuel Gebrewold, a driver who lives and works in Prince George’s. “More Veolia cars will replace local taxicabs. We will be forced to find business in an already crowded market in Prince George’s County.”

Fisseha Tesfaye, another driver, said he started working at National Harbor when it opened because it provided steadier fares. He said the taxicab drivers already feel at a disadvantage because there are no taxi stands on the Gaylord property.

“They didn’t even give us a chance,” said Tesfaye. “If there is anything they need from us, they could tell us. All of a sudden they bring this company.”

Labor unions are backing the taxi drivers’ fight, helping them to organize and lobby.

“Taxi drivers have to stick together. This fight is about protecting local communities and the people who live and work in those communities,” said Ron Blount, a Philadelphia cabdriver and vice president of the National Taxi Workers Alliance, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

With few large hotels in Prince George’s, National Harbor has been a welcome hub for cabbies in search of steady work. From 100 to 200 taxi drivers serve the development and its six hotels on the shores of the Potomac River in Oxon Hill.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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