Letter to the Editor

Why D.C. needs cab medallions

I have to wonder how carefully Sam Staley examined the bill he was criticizing before he sat down at his keyboard to write his April 10 Local Opinions commentary, “A cab medallion system in D.C.? The neighborhoods will pay the price.”

Staley failed to note that the legislation sets aside 800 “restricted medallions.” Holders of these medallions would be required to transport to, from and within only “geographically underserved areas,” defined as Wards 7 and 8 and parts of Ward 5. Through this provision, the legislation indeed provides for service to the “poorer neighborhoods” that Staley said he was concerned about about. This omission gets to the heart of one of his major arguments against medallions: an imagined lack of service to poorer neighborhoods. 

There are 8,250 licensed taxicabs in D.C. Until about 2003, the city usually had somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000, and 8,000 is too many. Anyone who has seen the swarms of cabs on Capitol Hill, on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House, on 14th Street in Columbia Heights and in Adams-Morgan at night cannot disagree.

The purpose of the low medallion prices that would be offered to veteran drivers is to allow those of us who have sweat equity in this business to remain in it. Many of us entered this business 20 or more years ago with the reasonable expectation that we would not be regulated out of it. We survived the crime waves of the 1970s, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and another crime wave of the early 1990s. It would hardly be fair to tell us that, now that things are better, the business is not for us.

To be sure, the legislation is not perfect. Some of the numbers need to be adjusted. The “geographically underserved areas” simply will not support 800 cabs. In addition, a six-year age limit is reasonable for fleet vehicles, which are driven around the clock, but not for vehicles operated only by one driver. Such a low limit will serve to keep an individual medallion holder perpetually in debt, since once he has paid off one vehicle, it will not be long till he has to get another. I suggest changing the limit to eight years.

The legislation also makes no provision for someone from the cab business to be on the new three-member governing board that would replace the taxicab commission, among other problems. But overall it would be a step toward addressing the problems of an oversaturated market. If it was tweaked properly, the bill would benefit drivers while still providing adequate service to the residential areas of this city.

Philip Lebet, Washington

The writer is a D.C. cabdriver and dispatcher. He is former corporate secretary of the Diamond Cab Co.

 
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