D.C. City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) introduced a bill yesterday to consolidate all responsibility for regulating and policing the taxicab industry within the Public Service Commission, which now only sets the cab rates.
The legislation, which is supported by a number of cab companies and drivers, also would establish criteria for setting fares to guarantee operators a "fair rate of return."
Kane, chairman of the Public Services and Cable Television Committee, drafted the bill after conducting long hearings last October on the problems of the District's cab industry.
They include sagging profits for operators and widespread complaints about drivers overcharging or discriminating in the customers they pick up.
Yesterday, Kane contended that many of those problems could be alleviated or eliminated with a less fragmented regulatory approach.
"This fragmented system . . . leads to uncoordinated policy establishment, poor regulatory continuity, and has led to a void in the development of regulatory expertise and accountability," Kane said.
Currently, the PSC, the City Council, the mayor's office, the D.C. Hackers License Appeal Board, the police department and about six other agencies and departments share in regulating and policing the industry.
Under Kane's proposal, the PSC, a semi-independent agency that sets utility rates, would be given authority to promulgate all regulations, rates and orders affecting the cab industry. A Bureau of Taxi Administration would be created within the PSC, headed by an appointed administrator, to enforce all licensing regulations and respond to citizen complaints. The new bureau would supplant the Hackers License Appeal Board as the city's chief enforcement arm.
"This will mean one center of accountability having responsibility for all aspects of industry regulation," Kane said at a press conference. "This, in my opinion, will provide easier and clear access by both the public and industry to government on taxi matters."
The bill provides that all rates, fares and revisions of the zone boundaries should be done in such a way as to ensure that operators and owners receive "reasonable and just compensation and a fair rate of return" for a 40-hour work week.
"We have come to realize that part of the problem faced by the industry is that people simply can't make a living," Kane said.
Kane introduced a bill last year that would have consolidated all authority within the D.C. Department of Transportation. However, that measure ran into trouble after the department said it didn't want to assume rate-making authority.
Daniel Smith, president of Eastern Cab Co. and an influential industry spokesman, hailed Kane's latest proposal.
"This is a bill that will certainly consolidate authority and bring about better and more efficient operation," Smith said. "And the public will benefit from it because they know who to call with complaints."
Fred D. Matthews, executive secretary of the Taxi Industry Group, a coalition of owners and drivers, said he hasn't seen the bill but questioned the need for additional legislation. Matthews said many problems could be cleared up if the city hired additional inspectors. Right now, only three or four inspectors are employed to enforce regulations for 11,000 cabdrivers.