Now, that may all be on the cusp of dramatic change as a wave of additional regulations and a burst of new competition combine to alter the city’s taxi landscape. D.C. cabbies, always a cranky bunch, now waver between outrage and despair. Their incomes, they say, have plummeted, and the new rules could force them to leave the business.
The D.C. Council last week approved an overhaul of taxi regulations aimed at modernizing a business that council members said has failed for decades to provide efficient, safe transportation. Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, says the goal is to finally ensure that all D.C. cabs be late-model vehicles that are painted in one identifiable color, accept credit cards and use modern technology to keep drivers honest.
But on the city’s streets, the slowly churning wheels of regulation can barely keep pace with swift changes in how people get around — in the sleek black sedans of the Uber service, a California-based taxi service that doesn’t operate under taxi rules, and in the city’s aging cabs, where life, drivers say, has become a catalogue of miseries.
Capitol Hill to
Larry Frankel has been hacking on D.C. streets for 17 years. The 2003 Mercury Grand Marquis he leases has 156,060 miles on it, but the ride is smooth and the interior immaculate.
Frankel, 59, his salt-and-pepper hair in a boyish shag, used to work five days a week, eight or 10 hours a day. But over the past few years, as the city switched from the zone fare system to meters, his income dropped by about 30 percent, he says. To make ends meet, he drives seven days a week, often for 12 to 14 hours at a stretch.
“Cabdrivers working 10 to 12 hours a day don’t tend to be very pleasant,” says Frankel, who loves to chat with passengers.
Frankel used to lease a newer car every two years. Now, he says, he can’t afford any change. “With less income, we can’t replace or repair our cars,” he says, “so, yes, the customer notices the cabs are getting worse.”
Three years ago, after his income dropped from about $200 a day under the zone system to less than $150 a day, Frankel had to take in two roommates at his house near RFK Stadium. “I’m 59 years old, and I’ve never had roomies in my life,” he says.
to Penn Quarter, $17
Roger Whyte, 26, an event planner, waits in his apartment building for his 10 a.m. ride to D.C. Superior Court for jury duty. He could have walked five blocks to the U Street Metro station, but the mercury is pushing into the 80s, and his perfectly pressed pink dress shirt is on the line.