Cabdrivers Plan Vocal Campaign in Meter Fight
Thursday, March 13, 2008
D.C. cabdrivers are mounting a last-ditch fight against the coming of time-and-distance meters, from a recall effort against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to a "paparazzi campaign" urging drivers to photograph elected officials they encounter.
Drivers are contemplating plans to blanket major intersections with signs of support, voice their concerns at about 60 area churches and sell baseball caps with a slogan that might need an explanation outside the Washington area: "Taxicab drivers want zone meters."
Details of the effort are in the Taxi Dispatch, a newsletter published by the recently formed D.C. Coalition of Cabdrivers, Companies and Associations, which says it represents 3,500 to 4,000 of the city's 7,500 licensed taxi drivers.
Five thousand copies of the newsletter were distributed in the past few days. The coalition is leading the charge against a plan by Fenty (D) to change to meters from zones to determine fares and has taken the issue to court. The group filed a civil lawsuit last week against Fenty and Taxicab Commission Chairman Leon J. Swain Jr., challenging their authority to switch to a meter system. On Tuesday, a D.C. Superior Court judge extended the deadline for the start of meters from April 6 to May 1.
Nathan Price, chairman of the coalition, said the group has no intention of dropping the fight, even as Fenty seems equally determined to make the changeover. Price said drivers would be happy with a zone meter, which would retain the D.C. zones but calculate fares using a Global Positioning System device and produce printed receipts for passengers.
"The problem is, these drivers, they know what time-and-distance meters are going to do to their livelihood. They have no reason but to go all out," said Price, a D.C. cabdriver for 36 years. "When the gun is pointing at your head and you have to either fight or die, you have no choice but to keep fighting."
Under the heading "Recall Campaign," the newsletter urged D.C. residents to join an effort that begins April 1 to oust Fenty "for disenfranchising the citizens of the District." The newsletter asks that each cabdriver collect 40 valid signatures in a week. A recall effort requires the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters, or about 30,000 signatures.
"Together with disgruntled parents from closing schools, parents opposed to the takeover of the public schools, families in public housing being kicked out for new high-priced condos, black males who are constant targets of the police department and other less fortunate people of color being bulldozed out of the District to make room for big business . . . we can collect more than enough signatures to recall the mayor," the newsletter says.
Price acknowledged yesterday that the odds on ousting Fenty might be "insurmountable." He also suggested that the recall petition might never get off the ground. "That was a Machiavellian threat . . . to get politicians to do certain things," Price said, citing the 16th-century Italian diplomat and politician who wrote about power.
Price said drivers, most of whom are independent operators, are convinced that the meters will effectively run them out of business. The drivers have said they think the switch to meters will cause fares to rise considerably because of the waits in traffic, in turn attracting big firms to set up shop. And they have said they fear that large cab companies will pressure city politicians to set limits on the number of cabs in the city, ultimately putting small operators out of business.
Every other major city has limits on the number of metered cabs allowed to operate, Price said. He used San Francisco as an example, saying that city has about 1,300 cabs, far fewer than the District, with most vehicles operated by large companies.
Price said the drivers' fight, in and out of court, might cost as much as $100,000. The group has raised about $60,000 in donations from drivers and cab company owners, he said.