The D.C. Public Service Commission yesterday agreed to hold public hearings on its new rule barring taxi drivers from picking up multiple fares without passengers' permission.
The action, which reverses an earlier decision not to hold public hearings, will also delay implementation of the controversial new shared riding policy for at least several months.
The commission's decision came after City Council members, spokesmen for the city's taxi drivers and a dissenting commission member strongly criticized the new rule and the PSC's earlier decision to approve it without public hearings.
The rule, which was scheduled to take effect July 1, rescinded an earlier regulation that gave cabdrivers the authority to decide whether to take multiple fares. It would not eliminate cab sharing, but would give passengers the authority to decide whether the cab in which they are riding may pick up additional fares.
Commission officials said yesterday that the decision to hold public hearings does not necessarily mean that the PSC will rescind the new policy. The commission has simply agreed to hold public hearings before making a final decision, officials said.
In a two-page order issued yesterday, the commission defended its original decision to adopt the new rule without public hearings. It said public hearings were not required and noted that instead it had solicited and received written statements from taxi industry officials opposing the change.
"Nevertheless," the order said, "the commission is persuaded that public hearings will provide an opportunity for further ventilation of the issues involved in shared riding."
Melvin L. Doxie, the commission's executive director, said the PSC has not yet set a date for the public hearings and will not know how many days of hearings will be necessary until the number of witnesses interested in testifying is known.
Doxie said the commission will try to schedule the hearings as soon as possible. In any case, he said, a final decision on the shared riding policy is not expected until sometime this fall.
Commission chairman Ruth Hankins-Nesbitt and Commissioner Patricia Clement voted for the new policy. Commissioner Wesley H. Long voted against the change and called the majority's action an "arbitrary exercise of regulatory authority."
Long, in a dissenting opinion, noted that the commission had not received any formal requests for the change.
Commission officials said the PSC acted after receiving numerous telephone complaints from passengers.
The commission's decision to postpone the effective date of the new policy came in response to requests for public hearings filed separately by City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At large), chairman of the council committee that oversees the PSC, and council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At large), chairman of the council's transportation committee.
"I'm delighted," Kane said when informed of the PSC's decision. Kane has introduced a bill to take away the commission's authority over taxicabs and shift it to the city transportation department, which already assists the PSC in regulating cabs.
Taxi driver representatives also praised yesterday's decision.
"We are hopeful that when they have the hearing something can be worked out to benefit both cabdrivers and the public," said William Wright, chairman of the Taxi Industry Group, which says it represents most of the city's cabdrivers.
Spokesmen for the drivers have said the new shared riding rule would sharply reduce their incomes and would curtail service to far Southeast and Northeast neighborhoods.
Commission members had said the change was designed to benefit the public and that there is no evidence drivers' incomes would drop.