The D.C. Taxicab Commission, after hearing pleas for help from an unusual coalition of city cabdrivers, union officials and a taxi company owner, called a special meeting yesterday, but for the second time in a week refused to take any significant action.
Instead, members of a key commission panel wrangled over procedures and then voted not to open for discussion the coalition's request for a 50-cent surcharge and a new zoning map.
The coalition said those measures are crucial for the city's 10,000 cabbies because of a steep insurance rate increase scheduled for Sept. 1.
Last week, commission Chairman Arrington Dixon made similar proposals and was turned down by a majority of the five-member panel on rates and rules.
Yesterday, he and Yale Lewis voted to consider the requests, while John Jessamy, Lucille Johnson and Joseph Becker were opposed.
Some observers saw yesterday's lack of action as a continuing power struggle over who will direct the new commission, which held its first meeting last month. Some commissioners have accused Dixon of pushing proposals without adequately consulting them.
Jessamy said during the meeting that he felt he could not vote for something he had not had time to read. He later proposed a study group meet in August to look at the issues.
After the meeting, he said it would be irresponsible of him to vote on something based just on the chairman's approval. "The chairman has put us on the fast track," he said.
"There is a need for the commissioners to become a viable part of the commission. The commission is not just the chairman. That is the whole point."
In their petition, more than 100 drivers, several officials of the Communication Workers of America Local 2336 and cab company owner Daniel Smith, who employs 500 drivers, asked for emergency legislation for a 50-cent surcharge on all cab fares in the District. They also urged a delay in the scheduled $11 a week insurance increase, adoption of a revised zone map and exemptions for some drivers from the commission's moratorium on new cab licenses.
Union members sat through four hours of a full commission meeting as well as the panel meeting. Several yelled, "Do it now," when commissioner Lucille Johnson said the decisions of the study group would be put in the District Register.
Union spokesman Ajab Abdus-Samad said after the meeting that some commission members were "insensitive to the needs of the cab drivers."
Abdus-Samad said the panel's actions would force the union to call for a three-hour strike sometime in August to let the commission know that the drivers need a rate increase.
"After last week's vote, we were between a rock and a hard place," he said. "Now we are at the hard place. We don't see that we have any future with this commission which is suppose to represent our needs."