For a while afterafter our last blasts at scofflaw cabbies in this city, we detected significant improvement in service around the city. Insults from drivers displeased with passengers' destinations diminished to low grumbles. Fewer lone would-be passengers were bypassed for hotel cab stands. Clueless navigators -- the drivers who think the Supreme Court is where the Bullets play -- seemed to have taken off for more familiar lands.
But now maybe the long wait
on those proposed fare increases is bringing out the
familiar worst in them. A minority of the city's cabdrivers is
bringing down the standards
That's got to be trouble for the majority of this city's cabbies, who work long, hard and fairly -- and who deserve a better rate of return. It also serves to explain why many cab organizations and independent drivers are supporting local government measures to improve service and consolidate responsibility for regulating and policing the taxi industry. Thanks to legislation sponsored by D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford, the criteria for obtaining and keeping a hacker's license are being toughened. And now another council member, Betty Ann Kane, has introduced a bill that would bring all regulating and policing authority under the Public Service Commission. This, too, deserves council support.
As it stands, authority over cabs is incredibly fragmented, which invites abuses by drivers. Most people haven't the foggiest idea which agency does what to cabs: the PSC, the D.C. Council, the mayor's office, the D.C. Hackers License Appeal Board, the police department or some six other agencies and departments that are part of the act. Under Mrs. Kane's proposal, the semi-independent PSC, which now sets utility rates, would have the authority to promulgate all regulations, rates and orders affecting cabs. A bureau within the commission would enforce all licensing regulations and would respond to public complaints. In addition, all rates, fares and revisions of the zone boundaries would be decided in ways aimed at providing cab operators and owners "reasonable and just compensation and a fair rate of return" for a 40- hour work week.
Fair enough. But in the meantime -- with all due dispatch, please -- the city should proceed with one other step long overdue and critical to any success in reform: hire more inspectors. Right now, there are three or four inspectors employed to enforce regulations for 11,000 drivers. That's absurd. The city can make all the rules changes and consolidations of authority it wants, but without enforcement, it is like a would-passenger flailing from curbside as cabs pass him by.