District Notebook: Too Many Cabbies, Too Little Money and Plenty of Candidates

By Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 2, 2009

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) wants to reduce the number of licensed cabdrivers. He introduced legislation this week to begin looking at a way to "cap" the cabbies.

Graham, whose committee oversees the taxicab industry, said the city has 8,000 licensed operators and 1,000 applicants who have passed the tests but have not completed the licensing process. That seems to be more licensed operators per capita than any other city in the world, he said: "This boat is going to sink by its own weight."

The switch from zones to meters and the economy have hit the pockets of some cabdrivers. And competition isn't helping.

Applicants have inundated the system since tests resumed last year; the city had stopped giving exams when questions were leaked. There was evidence of cheating in 2005.

Graham said he did not know how the city would achieve a cap on drivers but said one possibility is requiring medallions or certificates. He said the city also should reconsider whether to continue giving applicants three chances to pass the exam.

Hitting the Books for $190 Million

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) met with City Administrator Neil O. Albert last week to begin plotting a strategy for closing the District's revenue shortfall.

The meeting, which included Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's budget team, comes as Gray is sending signals he doesn't want the city to use its reserve fund to close a $190 million shortfall in the current year's budget. District leaders also face a $150 million gap in the 2010 budget that the council approved last month. And the gap is projected to grow to $240 million in 2011.

"Do we try to deal with all of this now, or do we use the contingency fund that will just push the problems out further?" Gray asked in an interview. "Do we try to solve the problem fundamentally, or do we try to buy time?"

In announcing the revised revenue numbers, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi suggested that Fenty (D) remove $190 million from the reserve fund to close this year's budget gap, to be paid back in fiscal 2010 and 2011.

Gray said he's exploring other strategies -- perhaps involving major cuts this summer -- to avoid using the reserve fund. One option involves shifting $190 million from the 2010 budget to the current year's spending plan. The council would then have to reduce the 2010 spending plan by $340 million before the summer recess.

"I don't see any alternative to eventually having to substantially reduce services unless someone proposes new taxes, and I don't know if there is an appetite for that," Gray said.

The council was scheduled to go on recess July 15, but that has been postponed to the end of the month to address the budget.

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