May 7, 2012

TRAVELERS ARRIVING at the District’s Union Station in the predawn hours, when Metrorail transportation is not available, take a chance. Maybe they will find a cabbie who will follow the law, and getting home won’t be an ordeal. More likely, they’ll stand in a long line, only to be rejected (illegally) by drivers disdainful of their destination or sandwiched (illegally) into vehicles with other tired, desperate people.

Why isn’t the city or Union Station taking better steps to correct conditions that visitors would more likely expect in a Third World outpost than in this nation’s capital?

The “special type of bedlam” that occurs after midnight at Union Station was chronicled by The Post’s Robert Samuels. He described how those at the station after midnight are taken advantage of by cab drivers who ignore the rules that prohibit them from rejecting riders based on their destination, require the use of meters and give riders the right not to share cabs. Not all drivers are unscrupulous, but too many apparently think they can flout the rules because they are essentially unregulated in these early-morning hours, with the inspectors and dispatchers having gone home.

“It’s a jungle,” Ron Linton, chairman of the District’s taxi commission, flatly admitted to us. With only 15 inspectors, he said, there is no way to have a 24/7 operation. The after-midnight issues are not limited to Union Station, he acknowledged. Mr. Linton said a number of initiatives are in the works — targeted enforcement operations, a campaign to educate riders about their rights, an improved reporting system for aggrieved riders — but resources are an issue and he couldn’t provide a timeline.

A bill pending before the D.C. Council, which aims to overhaul the industry by requiring the installation of credit card readers, GPS systems and uniform vehicle colors, also would increase the number of hack inspectors. It is clear the city, which has for decades largely slighted regulation of the taxi industry, needs to devote more resources. Even with the current budget, though, Mr. Linton and his commission found the resources to crack down on Uber cars, an alternative taxi service whose customers seemed entirely satisfied. We have to believe that if the city, Amtrak and Union Station officials put their heads together, they could come up with some immediate strategies to end the chaos for a cab at one of the city’s most critical transportation hubs.