The D.C. City Council gave unanimous approval yesterday to a measure that creates a commission with sole authority for regulating the city's troubled taxicab industry in an effort to end fragmented enforcement of rules and improve service to the public.
The legislation, which is subject to final council approval, also contains a provision that would prohibit the new regulatory commission from authorizing, without the council's approval, meters for cabs or limiting the number of cabs that may operate in the city.
The D.C. Public Service Commission currently has primary responsibility for regulating the industry.
In other action, the council unanimously approved a proposed pay raise for police officers that will cost the city $57 million during a three-year period.
The contract award, recommended by an arbitration panel, represents the first time that D.C. policemen have been granted larger pay raises than have firefighters. Before he sent the award to the council for final approval, Mayor Marion Barry had tried to get the ruling overturned on the basis that it would be too costly.
The taxicab measure is the result of several attempts to consolidate the functions of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and nine other government agencies and offices responsible for regulating taxicabs. The industry came under criticism recently when a WDVM-TV (Channel 9) investigation concluded that taxi drivers gave payoffs to "middlemen" who arranged to have faulty cabs pass city inspection.
Over the years, council members have heard numerous complaints that cabdrivers overcharge customers, refuse to transport would-be riders, are discourteous and have trouble locating such well-known landmarks as the District Building and the Washington Monument.
Under the new measure, a 13-member District of Columbia Taxicab Commission would assume the PSC's authority to establish rates and hear all complaints from consumers and cabdrivers. An Office of Taxicabs, with a staff of at least 12 hack inspectors, would be set up under the taxicab commission to enforce regulations.
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), who sponsored the legislation, said the council had trouble developing a comprehensive bill because of differing views within the industry.
She said that in response to critics who viewed the new bill as the first step in making dramatic changes in the industry, language was added to prevent the commission from ordering the use of meters instead of the current zone system without council approval.
Fred Matthews, executive secretary of the D.C. Taxicab Industry group, said he was pleased with the council's action and is convinced that the changes will help to improve the industry's public image. But the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations opposed the legislation.
In a letter to the mayor, the civic association asked for stricter enforcement of existing laws and an investigation of allegations of wrongdoing in the taxi industry. Barry endorsed the taxicab measure adopted by the council.
In its final legislative session of the year, the council also:
*Gave preliminary approval to a bill aimed at reforming the licensing and regulation of health occupations. Under the measure, social workers, dieticians and nutritionists would be licensed for the first time.
The bill also authorizes nurse specialists, including nurse-midwives and nurse-anesthetists, to engage in medical diagnosis and treatment, provided they collaborate with doctors.
Nurses strongly objected to the levels of required collaboration established in the bill and urged the council to delete sections that nurses viewed as an attempt to place doctors in a supervisory role.
"Some of the council members still view a doctor as a deity figure who would be in control," said Kathleen McIntyre, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Nurses Association. "It comes down to a question of money. Some nurses, who could save consumers money, won't be able to go into private practice under these regulations."
*Approved on an emergency basis a resolution recommending that the Federal Reserve Board approve a merger of D.C. National BanCorp Inc. and Sovran Financial Corporation. Bank officials submitted a statement pledging to provide a minimum of $10 million in loans during the next five years to areas that the council designates as deserving. Efforts would be made to make the loans available to low- and moderate-income residents.
*Adopted emergency legislation calling for the mayor to adopt within six months a comprehensive plan to deal with acquired immune deficiency syndrome and to establish an AIDS program office. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), who sponsored the legislation, said, "There are persons dying each day from AIDS, and I believe that it is time for this government to devise a course of action and to coordinate those efforts."
*Gave final approval to a limited ban on the use of phosphates in soaps and detergents sold in the District.