Correction to This Article
A previous version of this article stated more than 300 additional taxicab operators are licensed annually, but the correct figure is 300 new taxicab licenses per month. This version has been corrected.

D.C. Cabbies, Fearful of Costs, Strike Over Proposed System

Jim Graham says his bill would protect cabbies by capping market.
Jim Graham says his bill would protect cabbies by capping market. (Bill O'leary - The Washington Post)
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By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

About 1,000 taxi drivers went on strike Tuesday in response to a D.C. Council bill aimed at establishing a taxi medallion system or a taxi vehicle certificate system, organizers said. If passed, cabdrivers fear, the bill could substantially increase the cost of operating a taxi in the District.

"We see this as a veiled threat to privatize our business and invite big corporations into the taxicab business," said Larry Frankel, a member of the Dominion of Cab Drivers. "We are here to protect our rights as owners and operators."

If medallions are instituted, taxi drivers would have to pay a monthly fee, like those in New York or Boston, for medallions that would allow them to operate throughout the District. Frankel was one of the dozens of cabdrivers protesting Tuesday at the John A. Wilson Building. They say the bill threatens the ability of cabdrivers to privately own the vehicles they drive. The drivers also complained about a 30 percent drop in their incomes since the city switched from a zone system to a time-and-distance meter system to determine cab fares.

Most cabbies pay for dispatch services but own and operate their cabs independently, said Frankel who has been driving a District cab for the past 15 years. He and others said the proposed bill will decrease profits of taxi drivers in the District.

District Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) introduced the bill on June 30, and Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) co-sponsored it.

Graham said the bill is aimed at protecting the market of District cabs. The council member said he is concerned that, without regulation, the city, which he said has more than 8,000 taxicab operators, will be overrun with taxis. Graham said that more than 300 additional taxicab operators are licensed monthly.

"The fact of the matter is that we are overwhelmed by the number of operators," he said. "I introduced this bill to explore ways to limit the number of operators." Graham said that he is open to making changes to the bill but that something must be done to stem the growing number of operators.

Ali Tahmaseb, who has been driving a District cab for 26 years, fears that even with options the bill will hurt his livelihood. He shares Frankel's concerns and said that the rate to operate a taxi could go from about $30 a day to more than $100 a day if the bill is passed.

"This bill would enslave us," he said Tuesday while standing with other protesters.

A public hearing on the bill will be held Oct. 1 at the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

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