AT LAST there's something for Washington's would-be taxi riders to hail besides that cabbie who flips down the "Off Duty" sign, dusts you back up onto the curb and blows on by to the hotel where the doorman has two live ones waiting to be shoved in for the overcharge of their lives. The new D.C. Taxicab Commission held its first formal meeting Wednesday and wasted no time making its mark. The commission adopted emergency rules that jacked up heretofore puny fines for lawbreaking hackers and began increasing the preposterously low number of hack inspectors. "We mean business," said Chairman Arrington Dixon. Let us hope he is right.
Effective next Friday, a cabdriver who can't produce a proper hacker's license -- or "face," as it's called in the business -- will be fined $500. That's 10 times what the fine is now. What's more, the cab company, too, could be fined $500. And if one of these lawbreakers is caught refusing to take you, that's going to cost $100, instead of the silly $10 fine that has been on the books. Improper uses of the "Off Duty" or "On Call" signs will cost $50 instead of $10. And a new infraction is added to the list: "Failure to obey an order of a civilian hack inspector or other law enforcement personnel engaged in enforcement of taxicab laws and regulations;" it also carries a $50 fine.
None of this would be worth a subzone fare, of course, without enforcement -- which up to now has rested in the hands of one or two hack inspectors at any given time and of police who have tried to help out. Mr. Dixon says the commission is shooting for a total of 15 civilian hack inspectors as soon as possible and more as time and money allow. In the meantime, he reports, meetings with the city's police, park police and the airport police have produced pledges of stronger cooperation now that the fines will be serious enough to make these efforts worthwhile.
There's more: try not to bunch up, but everyone with a complaint or suggestion about cab service in the city is invited to testify at a public hearing at 1 p.m. on Monday, July 13, in Room A-5 of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library downtown. This may be the tallest order in town, but such an open forum is long overdue and important to any effective crackdown.
Will any of this make a serious difference? Keep your fingers crossed, or at least your arm extended in the traditional hailing motion until symptoms of relief are apparent.