The Alexandria City Council has decided more work is needed before it can adopt a new framework for regulating the city's taxicab industry.
After considering the details of four plans, the council voted that further refining is necessary to resolve the contentious issue of regulation. To that end, the council decided to create a work group of two council members -- K. Rob Krupicka (D) and Ludwig P. Gaines (D) -- to draft a consensus from the divergent proposals as well as considering incorporating existing regulations.
"I believe that we are close, but I don't believe we've gotten the brass ring yet," Councilwoman Joyce Woodson (D) told the panel. "It almost appears to me we have a menu where we can draw from Column A and Column B and Column C" to formulate the right plan.
Krupicka and Gaines will focus on constructing a new framework by incorporating elements from the plans on the table, one of them laid out by the Taxicab Industry Work Group, a consultant-led committee of taxi drivers and cab company owners. A plan could be presented to the council for consideration as early as Wednesday.
"It's not so much that we want to go with this plan or that plan," said Tom Culpepper, deputy director of the city's Department of Transportation and Environmental Services "We want to take bits and pieces from these plans."
Each plan is geared toward refining the current regulatory system that was adopted by the city in 1982, after complaints from taxi customers. Those regulations effectively stripped independent business control from the city's taxi drivers and gave it to taxi companies in order to create a system of checks and balances.
Today, drivers complain that they have too little control over their livelihoods, particularly when it comes to their licenses, known as certificate cards, which allow drivers to operate in the city. Certificates are held by the city's taxi companies. Drivers are not allowed to operate independently; they must be affiliated with one of the city's authorized taxi services. As a result, taxi drivers say, they have trouble making ends meet and suffer poor treatment at the hands of the taxi companies.
"Most people recognize there's a degree of validity to [their] claim," Culpepper said.
The city appointed the Taxicab Industry Work Group to consider the desires of both the drivers, who want control over their certificates; company owners, who say the current system helps regulate drivers and ensure good customer service; and residents, particularly senior citizens, who rely on taxi services.
Last month, City Manager Philip G. Sunderland presented the group's recommendations to the council, suggesting that the proposal would maintain economic stability in the taxi industry and preserve the viability of the current cab companies.
The group recommended increasing opportunities for drivers by issuing 20 percent of the city's certificate cards directly to drivers, but Sunderland recommended that number be increased to 35 percent of the city's 645 cabs.
Gattew Teferi, a cabdriver who participated in the work group, was happy to see two council members assigned to take up the issue, warning that city cabdrivers are "bleeding" at the mercy of the cab companies who he said take their money in monthly fees but don't send fares their way.
"It's modern slavery," said Teferi, who supports drivers holding their own certificates. "The certificate means bargaining power." He disputed the notion that companies will not be able to control drivers if they hold their own certificates. "That is false," he said.
Once the council adopts a general framework, staff will fill in the details and start developing revisions to the city code. Council members would like to adopt a detailed plan before they recess in August, officials said.