D.C. Crackdown Angers Cabdrivers
Sunday, July 23, 2006
D.C. taxi driver Nathan Price was born in the District and lived some 40 years in the city until he moved to Northern Virginia a decade ago. That's where his girlfriend lived, and housing seemed more affordable.
But he is worried that where he lives will jeopardize where he works.
A D.C. law passed in 2001 -- but only recently enforced for taxi and limo drivers -- allows only city residents to register vehicles in the District and has Price and other local drivers considering a strike. They say the residency requirement restricts their right to make a living and threatens a historic aspect of Washington life: the cabdriver as self-employed.
"Our backs are pushed up against the wall," said Price, spokesman for the D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association, a group representing about 700 drivers. It has filed a civil lawsuit against the city asking that the residency law be suspended. A procedural hearing on the case was held Friday in D.C. Superior Court.
City officials say the magnitude of the controversy has been exaggerated and that the aim is to create an equitable, enforceable system so the District can receive the appropriate fees and taxes from drivers.
"We have absolutely no interest in either running them out of business or turning this into an exclusively corporate town. That is not a goal," said D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Causton A. Toney. "The law was not targeted to taxicabs," he said.
The situation highlights the unique nature of Washington's taxicab industry and the potential changes that are roiling its drivers. A majority of the District's 7,500 drivers are independent business people, and about 80 percent live outside the city.
Drivers also are fuming over a push by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to convert the city's zone-based fare system to a meter-based one like those used in most major cities.
The 2001 residency law had not been enforced for taxis and limos until March, when Department of Motor Vehicles officials discovered the omission.
"Our general counsel [was] reviewing our operations a few months ago and noticed that this had been on the books for many years and wasn't being enforced," said Janis D. Hazel, a DMV spokeswoman.
"Once we realized it wasn't, we stepped up enforcement," Hazel said.
DMV officials brought the issue to the attention of Toney and D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who heads the council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment.