Cabbie Strike Looms In D.C.

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2007

District businesses are bracing for a 24-hour taxi strike threatened on Halloween, a high-volume day for cabs, in what drivers say might be the first in a series of strikes to protest Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's recent decision to switch from zones to meters.

Tourism officials said out-of-town visitors will be inconvenienced, although many hotels plan to provide limos and shuttles, and bar owners are concerned about the effect on business if customers are not sure of a taxi ride home.

It is unclear how many drivers will participate.

Organizers said more than half the city's estimated 7,500 drivers will be on strike from 6 a.m. tomorrow to 6 a.m. Thursday. Their claims were difficult to gauge, however, because there have been no mass meetings on a strike, and drivers, most of them independent contractors, are represented by several organizations.

Spreading the message through leaflets and word of mouth, organizers contend that there are enough angry drivers to bring taxi service in much of the city to a standstill.

"We just want to say to the mayor that we are in complete disagreement with him and that we are opposed to time-and-distance meters," said William J. Wright, president of the Taxicab Industry Group, who is leading the strike. "We're going to do everything we can to overturn this decision."

The last time District cabdrivers went on strike, it was for 12 hours Nov. 17, 2004. They were upset by legislation proposed by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to revamp taxi regulation.

The 2004 strike caused significant disruption as cabdrivers parked outside hotels and cruised the streets but refused to pick up passengers. It particularly affected service at Dupont Circle, Capitol Hill and Union Station.

Wright announced the latest strike Oct. 17, the day Fenty (D) decided to switch to meters from the decades-old zone system favored by many cabdrivers. Drivers say they fear that the change will threaten their livelihoods and make cab rides unaffordable for many residents.

Fenty said he was influenced by a rider survey showing widespread dissatisfaction with local cab service. D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon Swain Jr. has begun rewriting regulations, anticipating a springtime start for meters.

Several cabdriver organizations said they expect participation in the strike to be significant.

Wegen Tadesse said the 900 members of the Ethiopian Ethio-American United Cab Owner Association plan to strike. "It's not just about the meters now," he said. "There are no guarantees for any of our jobs. The big companies are going to take over the business."

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