Two groups interested in bidding for the exclusive taxicab business at Dulles Airport are criticizing the proposed new contract as tailor-made to return the concession to its current operator, Farouq Massoud.
Massoud, who has operated the Washington Flyer taxi fleet since 1989, has been criticized by his drivers, who say he charges them excessive fees that force them to work 16 or more hours a day to make a living wage. Massoud has said that the fees are fair and that drivers can earn a good living.
The request for bids was issued by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and it requires the next cab contractor to construct a building and 1,000-car parking lot for the cabs--a project the drivers estimate will cost at least $5 million--and to submit detailed plans by Oct. 18. The next contractor also must arrange a partnership with a second cab company to provide a supplementary fleet, provide extensive financial records and agree to pay Massoud more than $229,000 for the remaining costs of his current projects.
"It appears that the airports authority has included some difficult if not impossible conditions for a new service provider," said George Crawford, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, who said the commission had hoped to make a bid to win the concession for District drivers. "It's unclear what purpose was served by even issuing the request for proposals."
The Dulles drivers, also hoping to make a bid, were similarly discouraged. Abdalla O. Nasir, president of the Washington Flyer Taxi Drivers Association, said the next contract "is really tailored for big business and especially for Massoud. The requirements are too high for small, disadvantaged businesses on their own."
Nasir said Massoud has had building plans ready for some time, giving him a huge advantage over other bidders. The airports authority wants to relocate the drivers' staging area far from the terminal to make space for a new parking garage.
In an interview, Massoud said that he did not have plans ready and that preparing a bid actually took longer than for previous contracts. "Whoever bids, they have to work hard in order to respond," he said.
The airports authority said that it encouraged potential bidders to call or write with questions or complaints and that it had scheduled a conference for this month for bidders to raise such issues. The request for proposals was released Aug. 27, giving interested parties seven weeks to apply, which authority spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said was "fairly generous."
Hamilton said the authority's primary concern was "to attract as many bidders and as much competition as possible. If we find a time change would work toward that end, we might consider it," she said.
Whoever wins the next contract for Dulles cab service may face an investigation into business practices by the Department of Transportation's inspector general. Northern Virginia Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R), James P. Moran Jr. (D) and Thomas M. Davis III (R) called for the investigation after an Aug. 9 article in The Washington Post detailed the Dulles drivers' complaints, including that some of them slept in their cabs six days a week. The new request for proposals asks bidders to explain how they will monitor drivers to ensure they are sufficiently rested.
The fee arrangement for the next contract is essentially the same as Massoud's current contract, with the operator paying a flat fee or 18 percent of revenue, whichever is larger. The authority said Massoud has never paid more than the flat fee, which this year was $477,000.
The Dulles drivers say that Massoud's franchise seems far more profitable than that, noting that each of the 472 drivers in Massoud's fleet pays a weekly $140 in "stand dues," which equals about $3.4 million per year. Also, Massoud leases cabs to 244 of the drivers, who pay an additional $360 a week, plus insurance costs of $4,000 a year or more. Although the stand dues and lease rates are comparable with those charged by other cab operators, other cab companies in the area pay the insurance for their leasing drivers.
Nasir said the authority should be realizing more profit from the concession. "It really amazes me," Nasir said, "that the airports authority doesn't give any value to the amount of money they could be making."
Earlier this year, the airports authority extended Massoud's contract through Oct. 31. Massoud added 100 cabs, all owned by him, and the authority agreed to buy the cabs back from him if he did not win the next contract.
The authority will require any new contractor to pay Massoud more than $229,000 for improvements he made to the staging area, including his purchase of gas tanks for refueling cabs. However, Massoud is accused of not fully paying for the gas tanks himself. A lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court by a Maryland company, R.M. Thornton Inc., alleges that Massoud agreed to pay $121,700 for two above-ground storage tanks but has defaulted on more than $30,500 of that total.
Massoud said Thornton didn't complete the job, but he declined further comment while the suit is pending.
Massoud also faces four wrongful termination suits filed by former drivers in 1997 in Loudoun County Circuit Court. All four are scheduled for trial this fall.