Out-of-Town Drivers Line Up for Permits

By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

Celebrities, politicians and corporate bigwigs will glide about town for dozens of inauguration events. That is, if their hired drivers get the proper permits.

More than 100 out-of-town limousine drivers lined up for hours yesterday outside the D.C. Taxicab Commission to apply for Special Vehicle for Hire permits.

Without the $125 permit, hired cars based outside the District will not be allowed to drive into the city from any of the bridges or enter the closed inaugural security zone, which is open to buses, taxis and commercial drivers.

District taxis and limousines do not have to apply because they are registered with the commission.

D.C. taxi drivers have been clamoring for the city to institute a flat fare on Inauguration Day and abandon meters, allowing them to pick up several passengers on one trip. But Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), said D.C. taxis will use meters Tuesday.

Leon J. Swain of the taxi commission said that despite the flurry of last-minute applications from out-of-town companies, the regulation about special events has been on the books since 1994. Swain said he asked the National Limousine Association to notify its members. The commission also posted a notice on its Web site. Swain said the office has approved more than 1,000 permits.

"It isn't like we weren't prepared for them," he said of the onslaught of applicants, "it's just that it's getting close now and people are just confirming their reservations."

Operator Greg Zelano drove in from New Castle, Del., yesterday to register one car because a corporate client has hired him for Tuesday. "I thought it was ridiculous to have to drive two and a half hours for a permit," he said.

Swain said that in-person registration reduces the potential for fraud. Applicants must present proof of ownership and insurance and a driver's license.

The commission's offices, in a commercial building in Southeast Washington, were jammed with drivers, managers and operators clutching paperwork and standing for hours. Some had arrived at 6:30 a.m.

Imran Altaf of Fairfax County-based Black Top Limousine said he has scored the job of driving around Oprah and her posse for several days.

He waited more than five hours to get eight stickers and plans to return today to sign up the rest of his fleet. He expects it will cost $2,375. "I have reservations, so I have to do it," he said. "There's no way out."

Staff writer Elissa Silverman contributed to this report.

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