Irving Schlaifer is the president of the Washington, D.C. Taxicab Association. He was incorrectly identified in yesterday's Metro section. (Published 7/15/87)

Hecklers and criticism greeted the D.C. Taxicab Commission during its first public hearing yesterday, as the commission attempted to grapple with complaints about and from the city's cabdrivers and sought ways to improve the often-maligned industry.

Commission Chairman Arrington Dixon struggled to keep order in the audience of mostly cabdrivers and taxi company officials. When Dixon reordered the schedule of witnesses, hecklers shouted, "That's unfair," and "Where is democracy?" Dixon in return lectured the audience on being "disrespectful" of the commission.

Witnesses, who included cabdrivers, prospective cabdrivers, cab company officials, a union president and an official of the Hotel Association of Washington, DC, spoke on issues including changing the current zone fare system to a metered system, problems of hotel doormen receiving kickbacks for airport fares, drivers who do not speak English well, drivers who do not have proper licenses and the commission's recent moratorium on licensing of new cabs.

Formation of the 13-member commission was approved last year by the D.C. Council to consolidate regulation of the much-criticized taxi industry, which had been dispersed among seven city agencies.

Leonard Hickman, executive vice president of the hotel association whose move on the witness list from No. 30 to No. 2 was criticized by some members of the audience, said the hotels received numerous complaints about the city's taxi drivers.

"The complaints are well-documented, and cover the entire spectrum from rude and abusive treatment, lack of knowledge of the city, overcharging, filthy or poorly serviced cabs, inability to communicate in English and refusal to accept certain fares," he said.

Hickman suggested finding an easier method for visitors' complaints without their having to return to the city for a hearing.

Dixon said a new regulation had been adopted that would allow complaints from visitors to be heard by telephone with the commission paying for the call. Other changes also mentioned during the hearing, included a new schedule of classes for prospective cabdrivers.

Commission member Yale Lewis' response that cabdrivers accused of unprofessional behavior had a right to face their accusers was met with sustained applause from the audience of about 100.

Dixon told them, "Let's knock it off."

Hickman told commission member Lucille Johnson that his organization would support her suggestion of a special award for cabdriver of the month and a larger award for driver of the year.

Irving Schlaifer, president of Liberty Cab Association, was applauded for suggestions including identifying hack inspector cars with two-foot letters because "cabdrivers should be immediately made aware of the fact that the hack inspector is on the job. That will make the cabdrivers do their jobs."

Schlaifer, who said he got his hacker's license in 1945, said that cabdrivers net only about $4 an hour, a figure supported by other speakers.

He said that "$4 may sound pretty good, but you can't get by on that unless you work 14 hours a day. We should be able to {make a living} in eight hours."

Schlaifer said the commission's moratorium on new cabs and its earlier action to greatly increase fines for illegal cabdrivers has left city drivers "shaken. We are not going to take it. You push us and we will push back," he said to more applause from the audience.

When questioned by commissioner Joseph Becker about the implied threat, Schlaifer said he wasn't looking for a confrontation.

"I want to see you prove that you are on our side," Schlaifer said.

". . . Being on our side is the way to get results."