The vast dissatisfaction is the top-line finding of D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh’s taxi service poll, an nonscientific Internet survey that drew 4,025 responses over the course of nearly a month.
Asked how cab service in the District compares to service in other American cities, 69 percent of respondents said they thought D.C. was worse; only 8 percent said service here is better. And asked whether they support legislation to improve taxi service in the city, an overwhelming majority of respondents — 94 percent — said they did.
Legislation happens to be the reason for the survey; Cheh (D-Ward 3) has introduced a reform bill that proposes various changes to taxi amenities and driver requirements. “Helpful and disturbing” is how she described the survey results Wednesday. “There is a need for action here,” she said.
The survey posed several of the proposals to the public, and none garnered significant opposition. A couple found near universal support; 93 percent of respondents favored requiring all taxis to accept credit cards, and 92 percent favored requiring cab roof lights to signal when the car is available.
Other proposals won support by less overwhelming margins:
-- Increasing random taxi inspections (70 percent);
-- Increasing driver training (69 percent);
-- Providing incentives for “green” taxis (69 percent);
-- Removing old taxis from service (66 percent);
-- Installing GPS navigation devices in all taxis (65 percent);
-- Installing emergency alert buttons (65 percent);
-- Expanding service in underserved areas (61 percent);
-- Requiring electronic trip logs for drivers (59 percent).
One of the more intriguing proposals contemplated by Cheh’s proposal is requiring a uniform paint color for city cabs. That notion won the support of 65 percent of survey respondents. But when asked which color they preferred, opinions diverged. Thirty-eight percent preferred yellow, like in New York City; in second place was red, with 15 percent, favored by some because it’s also the color of the city’s Circulator buses and Bikeshare system. Orange came in third, with 11 percent.
Cheh’s preference — white — wasn’t particularly popular, garnering 4 percent, behind blue and green. ”I hope they don’t go with yellow,” Cheh said. “Personally yellow doesn’t appeal to me.” Her legislation as introduced leaves the decision to the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
The survey also asked respondents about a fare proposal from the Taxicab Commission that would increase the per-mile and wait-time rates while eliminating surcharges. A healthy majority of respondents said they could support the fare hike, though most of those said that was on the condition that service quality improves.
Nearly all survey respondents — 95 percent — identified themselves as taxi riders; only 2 percent said they drove taxis. Two-thirds of the self-identified taxi riders said they hail a cab at least once a week.
As might be expected from an Internet-only poll that was well-publicized on blogs, the survey sample skews young, with 63 percent reporting they’re between the ages of 18 and 24; only 10 percent reported being over 50. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they lived in the District, with nearly all the remainder living in Maryland or Virginia.
Cheh said she recognized the statistical limitations of an Internet poll, but she said the data would be helpful as “just one aspect” of her information-gathering as she proceeds with a hearing on Jan. 30 and considers possible revisions to the bill.
”I was surprised and pleased that so many people participated,” she said. “I’m not a social scientist, but 4,000 people responding is pretty significant. ... It’s a data point, and I’m glad to have done it.”
Those who participated in the survey were also allow to submit brief comments on city taxi service. Here’s a few:
-- “Prohibit taxis from talking on phone while moving, regardless if they use a hands-free device. This is the law in NYC and it improves safety as well as customer service.”
-- “Getting rid of the zone system was a huge first step in the right direction, but it was only a first step. Making sure that the drivers know how to drive, and that the cars are not held together with tape, would be the next two. “
-- “No stopping for gas with a passenger. If the don’t have enough gas to take a passenger anywhere in the area (as far as downtown to Dulles airport), they shouldn’t pick up a passenger.”
-- “I lived in Osaka, Japan for approximately eight years. During that time, I was only passed by a vacant taxi once. Now that I live in Washington, DC, I am passed by vacant taxi’s every time I attempt to hail a cab.”
-- “I would like to see strict penalties and a better reporting system in place for when a taxi driver refuses to take me to my destination. It happens to me all too often.”
Those last two complaints — driver “profiling” and refusing to haul passengers to where they want to go — have long been leveled against city cab drivers, and they were leveled often by the survey respondents. They also both happen to be illegal under the current taxi regulations.
Cheh said she was struck by how common those complaints remained. “We have more work to do there,” she said. “That’s very demeaning to people, and it makes us consider whether we’re doing enough now.”
Here are the full results: