D.C. taxicab drivers, often derided by passengers and city officials, got their turn yesterday to tell the D.C. Taxicab Commission what their lives are like. It was not a pretty picture.

Some bellhops or supermarket clerks demand $5 or $10 payoffs to flag cabs, they said. Unlicensed drivers steal passengers from them, overcharge the passengers by more than 100 percent, and then the passengers yell at the licensed drivers on their next ride.

Heavy fines are assessed more often for driving a dirty cab, or driving without socks, they complained. It costs more to lease a cab and to buy gasoline for it.

Finally, some of the cabbies said, they get no respect. Police don't respond to their calls for help, ticket them for the smallest infraction and, if they're from another country, make fun of them.

"I said {to a police officer}, 'Tell me what I did wrong,' " Nasser Ahanger recalled. Ahanger said he was talking to a U.S. Capitol police officer who had ticketed him for what he thought was a legal U-turn. "The policeman said, 'When you go back to your country, you will find out.' "

Fifty drivers attended yesterday's hearing, called by the commission to hear complaints about inspectors and insurance problems. These were restless men and women, full of anger for the three-year-old commission, which several said has done nothing to address flaws in the transportation system.

Their biggest complaint was that cabbies must work 15- to 20-hour days to make a decent wage.

"The economic deterioration in this industry is really significant," said Paul Davis, who stopped driving a cab in 1988 and now works for a sedan service.

Another man currently driving a taxi said if he doesn't overcharge or make illegal payoffs, he will clear about $250 for a 50-hour week, or $13,000 a year. So he works longer hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m, six days a week. "I have a wife and two children to support." He asked not to be identified.

A 10 to 15 percent rate increase to be considered by the commission on Tuesday would help their pocketbooks, several speakers said. But the best thing the commission could do is eliminate the unlicensed drivers they claim are stealing fares from the city's 8,500 legal drivers.

Unlicensed drivers, if caught, are fined. But Joanne Bell, a Communications Workers local president representing 400 drivers, said the city doesn't track down offenders and make them pay. "I know of one driver in town who owes $22,000 in fines," she testified. "If it's okay for him, what does that say to the others?"

Bell and other speakers said that unlicensed drivers should be charged and jailed and that their companies should pay heavy penalties.

Bell also told the commission that for $1,500 to $2,000, "you can buy everything you need to drive a taxicab," including fake licenses. Several drivers in the audience chimed in, "That's right."

Bell said she had concluded that employees in the D.C. cab licensing bureau had to be involved with such schemes.

"I've brought this up at every public hearing for four years," she continued. "If your commission is ever going to be respected, some cleanup must occur in your own agency."

Chairwoman Carrolena M. Key responded that the commission had heard such allegations before. But no drivers had come forward to substantiate them, she said.

When Bell suggested that the drivers fear retaliation, Commissioner William J. Wright suggested the agency set up a hot line for anonymous tips.

Bell also said the commission should limit the number of licensed cabs. Wright, who sits on the board of directors of a local cab company, then challenged her. "How would you do it?" he asked several times. Several times, Bell suggested limiting the number of cabs to about 7,000, the current number of licenses.

Wright pressed on, causing drivers in the audience to start hurling insults. "Mr. Wright, why are you asking these questions?" one man yelled. "You are always against the driver. You should be out!"

Wright left before the hearing ended.