The Washington Post

Clouds still hang over D.C. taxi ‘smart meters’

This taxi will get a “smart meter” installed in it. But when? (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Tomorrow, at his weekly news conference, Mayor Vincent C. Gray is set to debut the first D.C. taxi with a brand-new “smart meter.” That’s the $35 million system offering taxi riders much-demanded features such as credit card readers and GPS navigation, as well as such less-demanded features as video screens capable of blaring advertisements at riders.

But the future of the meter rollout is clouded. As the Washington Examiner reported, D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) last week filed a disapproval resolution challenging a modification to the smart meter contract with VeriFone Systems allowing the city to pay for meter installations rather than cab owners.

Should Barry succeed in convincing a majority of his colleagues to vote in favor of disapproval next month, the upshot would be that cab owners — including a hefty number of single-cab owner-operators — would be forced to pony up but the meters would still go in. And none of Barry’s colleagues, and probably not even Barry himself, want that to happen.

Disapproval, you must understand, is not the point of the disapproval resolution — it’s the 45-day delay it creates in executing the change to the contract. (Such tactics, you might know by now, are quintessential Barry.)

The real threat to the meter installation consists of protests to the underlying smart meter contract filed last month by two losing bidders. Those protests are in front of the Contract Appeals Board, which is considering whether to halt execution of the VeriFone contract while it rules on the appeal. The board has indicated to city lawyers that it will do so by Friday next week, said Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

Linton, in the meantime, has given a green light to cabbies to start installing the new meters, protests be damned. But what Barry’s disapproval resolution does, in effect, is remove any incentive for cab owners to install the meters before there’s a decision on the contract protests.

Barry, in effect, is doing a favor for the losing bidders, giving them time for their lawyers to overturn the contract award without the threat of having hundreds of the VeriFone systems installed in cabs first.

Is Barry purposefully carrying the protesters’ water, as some observers have speculated to me? He did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

UPDATE, 6:45 P.M.: Barry said his disapproval resolution is indeed rooted in the protests, but bristled at the suggestion he filed it at the protesters’ behest. “Anybody who thinks that is crazy,” Barry said.

Rather, Barry said, he’s being a “responsible legislator” by slowing things down untilt he Contract Appeals Board rules. “Once the judge rules one way or the other, then that’s the end of it for me,” he said, adding that Gray and Linton are “acting ridiculously” by rolling out the meters so quickly. “Why can’t we wait 11 days for a ruling from the judge? It’s not an emergency.”

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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