The D.C. Taxicab Commission yesterday tackled the problem of non-English-speaking applicants seeking a hacker's license in the District by requiring a screening test this fall for potential cabdrivers.
However, the new rule does not affect those drivers who already have licenses but cannot speak English, nor will it affect 806 students who took the commission's 12-hour course this summer, said commissioner Lucille Johnson, chairwoman of the panel's education subcomittee.
The screening test would pose brief spoken instructions, similar to those drivers must field from passengers, to see whether they understand them. Currently, drivers must pass a written test to be licensed, but their ability to converse in English is not tested.
The board did not discuss what recourse drivers who fail the test would have, but in the past board members have suggested that drivers with poor speaking skills be referred to courses in English as a second language.
Although no figure is available for the number of District cabdrivers who do not communicate well in English, the problem is often cited in complaints made against cabdrivers by local residents and tourists.
This was the third meeting of the 12-member commission, which is charged with improving the quality of service to the public and reforming the taxicab industry.
Johnson suggested a seminar for veteran drivers but said nothing could be done about drivers who currently hold licenses but are unable to communicate in English.
The test "would not be a pass-or-fail situation," she said. "The idea would be to give them additional information and knowledge."
As the hourlong meeting of the full commission was drawing to a close, a routine announcement from commission Chairman Arrington Dixon sparked a lively but brief debate about how much compensation commissioners should expect from the city and about the media's role in reporting the discussion.
Members of the commission's adjudication panel should be paid for study sessions, Dixon said.
The commission's other committee -- the four-member rates and rule panel -- already was receiving $150 per meeting, after voting this summer to make their study sessions official meetings.
Johnson asked whether an executive order by Mayor Marion Barry placing a $7,000 limit on the earnings of each commissioner for attending meetings could be rescinded.
"We can't say we can't meet because we have no money," she said.
Dixon assured her there were sufficient funds to cover the work of the commission.
Commissioner Carrolena Key said she supported the existing limit.
"I served on the hacker's commission for seven years, and I was never paid," she said. "I considered it a privilege and a honor. What revenue we receive is a subsidy and not a payment for our effort . . . to raise the quality of life in the city."
During the discussion, Johnson and commissioner Joseph Becker said they did not want the coverage of the meeting by the two reporters present to focus on the discussion of pay issues.
Later, they approached both reporters again and said they did not want to see coverage of the pay issue.