He pops on his car’s flashing lights. The cab stops, and out they come, six of them.
While Evans goes to chat with the driver, his partner, Carl Martin, calmly absorbs invective — not from the driver but from the riders, a group of activists from California who are in town for the Occupy Congress protest.
Nadine Hayes, 59, of Camarillo, is none too happy her driver ended up with $50 worth of tickets — $25 for overloading, $25 for an improper manifest. “He was doing us a service and taking us to where we wanted to go,” she said. “I think we’ve got far too many laws. I think the American people are being so oppressed.”
Alas for Hayes, if the wishes of some city lawmakers and regulators are granted, there could soon be more laws for the city taxicab industry.
On Monday, a D.C. Council committee will hear testimony on a bill that proposes sweeping taxi reforms, including mandatory credit-card readers, more fuel-efficient vehicles and more extensive driver training. The legislation also would boost enforcement, increasing the number of inspectors from 12 to a minimum of 20.
“Hack inspectors” such as Evans and Martin are on the front lines of D.C. taxicab regulation, and they’re also at the core of taxi drivers’ complaints about that regulation. Several drivers interviewed said they consider the inspectors harassing, rude, arbitrary and generally unfair, and they fear new regulations and increased enforcement will only exacerbate that.
But a poll shows that taxi riders take a dismal view of city cab service — more than three-quarters of the 4,000-plus who responded to a council-sponsored Internet survey deemed city cab service “fair” or “poor.” City taxi regulators say increasing the number and quality of inspectors is the way to improve that.
Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, said most rider gripes are addressed by regulations already on the books that need to be better enforced. “My hack inspectors are like the referees and umpires at the sporting event,” he said.
Should the reform bill pass, Linton said, he plans to increase the force to 29 inspectors and send them to the city police academy for more complete training.
A force of that size would mean eight or nine inspectors on the street around the clock. Currently, no more than five or six inspectors are on the job at any given time. In fact, late-night shifts have been eliminated entirely in recent years. Evans says drivers now know they’re free to flout regulations with impunity after midnight. “They know our schedule better than we do,” he said.
Evans, a shift leader with 10 years’ experience, and Martin, with four years on the force, are two of Linton’s top inspectors. They drive a late-model Chevy Impala around the city, patrolling mostly downtown but also in night-life areas such as Adams Morgan, U Street NW, H Street NE and Capitol Hill.