A controversial D.C. City Council bill aimed at strengthening the licensing requirements for city cabdrivers was approved yesterday by a council panel that added provisions establishing a two-year mandatory residency requirement and a training course for anyone seeking to obtain or renew a hacker's license.
Representatives of the taxicab industry objected, saying current drivers should not have to take the course to renew their licenses.
"There are only a few bad eggs in our group so why punish them all," said Fred D. Matthews, executive secretary of The Taxicab Industry Group. "They are putting rules on top of rules that aren't being enforced now. They are trying to do something to get people off their backs."
City Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) introduced the original bill in June to address complaints that many of the city's 11,000 cabdrivers cannot find locations -- including such landmarks as the Washington Monument and Union Station -- without directions from passengers. Crawford said that his bill would remedy problems created by foreign-born cabdrivers who do not speak sufficient English to communicate with passengers.
But the council's committee on public works approved a substantially different bill yesterday. Sections that would limit the number of cabdrivers to 10,500 and prevent foreigners with temporary or part-time employment authoritzation from working as cabdrivers were deleted.
City Council member Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At-Large), chairman of the public works committee, said that the limitation on drivers might deny employment to some and that the work-restriction for foreign-born drivers raised constitutional questions because it would deny work to persons with work permits.
With suggestions from Crawford, the panel amended the bill to include new hacker's license requirements that would apply to new applicants and current drivers. The new provisions include: Changing the residency requirement for a hacker's license from requiring an applicant to live in the metropolitan area for one of three years preceeding an application to two years immediately preceeding the date of the application. The requirement would also apply to drivers renewing their licenses. Establishing a 12-hour pilot training course, which would include minimal training on the city's geography, taxicab regulations and public relations. The course would be offered at the University of the District of Columbia at a cost of $25 and would have to be taken before applicants would be allowed to take a hacker's examination. The city's 11,000 current drivers would have to take the course and the examination to renew their licenses. Expanding the hacker's examination from 25 multiple-choice questions to 60 questions -- 50 multiple-choice questions on areas covered by the hacker's training course, five written questions to test the applicant's knowledge of the city and five oral questions on selected areas covered by the training course.
Moore said that the taxicab bill is a "red-hot issue in the community" and that yesterday's committee vote will allow the full council to consider the bill before its December recess.
The bill is not the only measure directed at improving the taxicab industry. As Moore's committee met, City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At-Large), chairman of the council's committee on public services, tried unsuccessfully to get her committee to approve a bill that would create a taxicab commission authorized to make rules and set rates for the taxicab industry. The committee tabled Kane's bill.