A taxi association has called on the District's 6,600 licensed cabdrivers to hold a 12-hour strike today to protest legislation proposed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to overhaul the way for-hire car service has been regulated in the city for nearly 20 years.
William J. Wright, chairman of the Taxicab Industry Group, said his organization had distributed about 8,000 fliers to drivers urging them to strike from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The job action is intended to cause service disruptions on the day of a public hearing on the mayor's bill.
"The purpose of the strike is to say that there is nothing wrong with our industry that small adjustments won't cure," said Wright, 82, a part-time driver for Capitol Cab Co. "We want to let the public know that what we don't need is a wholesale restructuring of the industry."
Wright predicted that most drivers will participate in the work stoppage, but administration officials said they had heard that very few drivers would take part.
The mayor's legislation calls for abolishing the nine-member D.C. Taxicab Commission and creating a Taxicab and Limousine Services Administration, which would be folded into the city's Department of Transportation. The new entity would be headed by an administrator with broad authority who would be appointed by the transportation director. The public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 7 p.m. before the D.C. Council Committee on Public Works and the Environment.
The Williams administration also is trying to raise $350,000 from businesses to fund a pilot program in which 24 to 32 cabs would be outfitted with fare meters for about eight months, said Chris Bender, a spokesman for the Office of Planning and Economic Development. The project could begin early next year, and after it is completed, he said, the administration would review the findings and determine whether to move to replace the zone fare system with meter-based fares.
"The goal here between the pilot program and the legislation is twofold: to improve customer service and streamline the regulatory process," Bender said. He added, "Unless you understand the zone system like the lines on your hands, it can be confusing."
Of the threatened strike, Bender said, "It is unfortunate, because we are approaching the busiest travel period of the year, and we are trying, as a government, to improve people's experiences in taxis."
Vaughn G. Williams, president of Yellow Cab Co. of D.C., said he had no idea how many of the company's 575 drivers planned to participate in the strike. But he said that the company would be taking calls and dispatching taxis today. "We can't really tell the drivers to come out and work because every Yellow Cab driver is independent," he said.
The District's cabdrivers have opposed numerous attempts by city officials to abolish the zone system, which dates to the Depression era.
"I would prefer to stay with the zone system because if you use meters, the fares are exorbitant for the people who live in the outlying zones of the city," Vaughn Williams said. "And with gridlock, the meters are going to be running while people are stuck in traffic."
Wright said that if the taxicab commission is eliminated, drivers will not receive as fair a hearing when having to defend themselves against passenger complaints.
"With nine people over there, a driver won't get pushed around like he or she would with one person, or a czar, running the agency," he said. "The driver has a better chance for justice in front of a commission, and the public does, too, when they file a complaint."
The new administrator would have the authority to appoint hearing examiners and advisory panels of industry officials, consumer representatives and others to carry out studies, projects and other assignments.
In an Oct. 29 letter to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) that accompanied the bill, the mayor wrote that the Taxicab Commission "structure has proven to be burdensome, inefficient and ineffective."