The woman passenger got off the 9 p.m. shuttle flight from New York one night early in February, strode through the National Airport concourse and climbed into a Yellow Cab that was waiting outside to pick up riders.
She gave the driver an address on Washington's Capitol Hill. But instead of pulling away into traffic, the passenger recounted later, the driver inched ahead into another waiting line, apparently hoping to pick up a second fare -- a violation of airport taxicab rules.
When the woman protested, she said, the driver got out, walked around the cab, opened the door on the passenger's side and invited her to disembark. She refused. Only after demanding and being refused the driver's identity, the passenger identified herself as a member of Congress.
Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro (D-N.Y.) got her exclusive ride but, she asserted, the driver "proceeded to make nasty comments" and even claimed not to know the way to First and D streets SE, an intersection just around the corner from the Capitol itself.
As a result of the incident and another similar episode reported one week earlier by a congressional staff member, cabdriver Girma Tesfay faces a two-week suspension of his hacker's permit by the D.C. Department of Transportation. Anthony Rachal, head of the department's transit and taxicab division, said yesterday that he will issue the suspension order, which Tesfay could appeal to an independent hearing board.
According to city and Yellow Cab Co. records, Tesfay is an Ethiopian who has been driving for the company since 1978. Frank Gresham, manager of Yellow, said Tesfay owns his own vehicle. He said no complaints had been filed with the company against the driver.
Harold E. Foster, an aide to Rachal, said the decision to take such action against Tesfay had nothing to do with the fact that Ferraro serves in Congress, but rather with the fact that she provided explicit details so similar to the complaint from the other rider. s
The case came to light at a congressional hearing yesterday when Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the House D.C. Appropriations subcommittee, questioned District officials about government regulation of the often chaotic taxicab-loading platforms at National Airport. He was told that federal airport authorities control the loading, but that the local government that licenses a cabdriver is basically responsible for discipline when the rules are broken.
Dixon, without mentioning Ferraro by name, cited the case. The Transportation Department later supplied details, including the fact that Dixon himself had forwarded Ferraro's complaint to the city government.
In her letter describing the Feb. 4 incident, Ferraro said she would like to see the cab-loading rules enforced for all passengers, especially those arriving late at night.
A former assistant district attorney of Queens County, Ferraro noted: "New York City has had problems with cabbies at airports, too, only . . . they're smart enough not to pick on the natives."