A D.C. City Council committee approved a bill yesterday that would bar hotels from awarding individual taxicab companies exclusive rights to pick up passengers at the hotels.
The bill, if approved by the full City Council, would eliminate a longstanding practice in which about a dozen major Washington hotels, including the Capital Hilton, The Sheraton Washington and the Embassy Row Hotel, contract with a single cab company to pick up hotel guests. All other cab companies are then forbidden by the hotels to pick up passengers there.
Small cab companies and independent drivers have complained that the exclusive contracts unfairly deny them business at some of the city's major hotels.
The bill was introduced by the chairman of the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), who is a former general counsel to two city cab companies. Rolark yesterday made the motion calling for the bill's adoption during the committee hearing and voted for it.
The bill has been strongly opposed by the D.C. hotel association, according to association executive director Leonard Hickman. He said hotels hire a particular company in order to make sure that they always have cabs readily available for guests. The practice also permits the hotel to exercise stronger control over drivers' behavior and the cabs' cleanliness, he said.
All but two of the hotels utilizing the system have given exclusive pickup rights to the same company, Yellow Cab Co. of D.C. Inc., according to city officials.
William Wright, a director of Capitol Cab Cooperative Association Inc., and Fred D. Matthews, president and general manager of Globe Cab Co., the two companies for which Rolark once worked, have been among the bill's strongest supporters. Wright is also president of the Taxicab Industry Group, a trade group that claims to represent 60 percent of the city's taxi drivers, and Matthews is the organization's executive director.
Rolark said her past involvement with the two companies did not constitute a conflict-of-interest situation. She also said her support of the bill had nothing to do with her former association with Capitol Cab and Globe Cab.
"Since I've been on the council, I've not worked . . . at all" for the two cab companies, Rolark said.
Wright and Matthews said they had been working to end exclusive hotel contracts for four years.
A similar bill died in the council's Transportation and Environmental Affairs Committee last year.
Rolark said the bill ended up in her committee this year after Council Chairman Arrington Dixon assigned it to her panel. She said she did not ask Dixon to assign it to her committee.
Voting with Rolark yesterday to approve the bill were council members Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) and William Spaulding (D-Ward 5). Council member Nadine Winter voted "present."
The bill now goes to the full council for consideration. Rolark initially introduced a bill that would eliminate the exclusive rights contracts, but it was later combined with a bill introduced by council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), which outlines procedures for reviewing complaints about the conduct of taxi drivers