For drivers, this development is another in a series of frustrations cabbies said they’ve encountered as the District has moved to make its taxi fleet easier to use and more competitive with car services that have begun vying for passengers. Drivers say the new requirements, which include the installation of credit card readers, larger and brighter dome lights, and a new red-and-gray color scheme, are too costly and coming too quickly.
This month, five drivers filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking a judge to block implementation of the new rules — the most expansive overhaul of the city’s fleet in nearly three decades. Among their arguments, the drivers contend that the new regulations violate the Americans With Disabilities Act and discriminate against older drivers in part because the new dome lights require drivers to get out of the vehicle to operate them. Such actions, the suit contends, are a physical burden on older or disabled drivers. They also argue that new GPS trackers are an invasion of driver and passenger privacy.
“They try to portray us as being against modernization, but we’re not,” said driver Ahmed Djebbour, one of the five who sued. “It’s just total chaos.”
In a response to the suit, District officials say that none of the drivers involved in the lawsuit are disabled and therefore lack standing to sue. The city’s lawyers also say there is no violation of driver or passenger privacy because the GPS tracker has safeguards to ensure anonymity.
Temporarily halting implementation of the rules would burden the drivers who have complied, city officials say.
Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, said that although he could not comment on the lawsuit, he has been surprised by the outcry from cabbies. The regulations, which were two years in the making, should not come as a surprise to drivers, he said.
“They’re really resisting against their own best interests,” he said.
Meanwhile, officials at Hitch, the payment processing company that the affected drivers use, say they are working as quickly as possible to resolve the credit card payment issue. But they maintain that the problems aren’t entirely their fault. David H. Miller, Hitch’s chief executive, said that in some cases, payments have been delayed because the company received bad information from drivers, including inaccurate bank account information or routing numbers.
‘This will all shake out’
The District-based start-up, which serves about 1,600 of the estimated 6,100 D.C. cabs that have installed the new readers, is one of eight companies cabdrivers may contract with to handle credit cards. Customers swipe their cards through a machine, and Hitch routes those payments to the drivers after deducting a service fee and the 25-cent surcharge that goes to the cab commission.