The zone system? Gone. Credit cards and meters? Here to stay. Uber? Eagerly partnering with the city to accommodate commuters displaced and disgruntled by Metro’s SafeTrack program.
Now, the final insult for cabdrivers who have seen their position erode in the past decade: Effective Tuesday, the D.C. Taxicab Commission (DCTC) will be rechristened the “Department of For-Hire Vehicles” (DFHV).
The new abbreviation doesn’t even rhyme.
“Taxicabs are being removed from the lingo, from the official record,” said Larry Frankel, chairman of the Dominion of Cab Drivers, a business association for the city’s cabbies. “After over 180 years of history — of taxicabs being an iconic part of Washington, D.C. — that we are stricken from the record is horrible.”
More than the record will change. Though the DFHV will do essentially what the DCTC did, only its chairman must be approved by the city council, giving the mayor more say in its membership.
Too much say, for some.
“It’ll be a total dictatorship,” Anthony Muhammad, a cabdriver and soon-to-be former member of the DCTC, said.
Muhammad, who said he drove a cab in the District for 33 years, criticized the timing of the DCTC-to-DFHV transition, saying the change would cost the city and cabdrivers as turbulent year-long Metro repairs mandated by SafeTrack are just beginning.
Muhammad said he would no longer drive a D.C. taxi and did not expect to serve on the DFHV.
“She’s not a fan of mine, and I’m not a fan of her,” Muhammad said of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
Others said the new department will not properly regulate for-hire vehicles. Taxis are subject to strict rules — rates, paint schemes and dome lights, among many items, are scrutinized by public officials. Lyft drivers, for example, need not worry about such niceties.
Royale Simms, an attorney for the Teamsters Union that represents more than 2,000 taxi drivers, pointed out that DCTC issued 200 tickets to private vehicles for hire between January and April. In the same period, D.C. taxis got 4,000 tickets from the commission.
“It’s not just about how these companies can do what they what,” Simms said. “It’s about public safety.”
The DFHV was born after the taxicab commission, which began in 1986 and was criticized for resisting change, including an unwillingness to abandon the zone system and hostility to ride-hailing.
“The members of the Commission — although they do their best — generally do not have enough significant policy, legal, transportation, or economics experience to make sophisticated judgments about proposed regulations,” read a February report from the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, chaired by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3).
Cheh, who sponsored the legislation that organized the DFHV, said a streamlined agency would better serve the public.
“The commission is simply an outmoded mechanism for dealing with our modern for-hire transportation system,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “The agency model . . . doesn’t change the regulatory powers, but provides clean lines of authority, greater efficiency, and makes the decisions about the industry more visible to the public.”
But to some, the change makes taxi drivers invisible.
“This is really another swipe at us, a sock in the jaw to knock us out,” Frankel of the Dominion of Cab Drivers said. “It stabs at the heart of who we are and our pride in what we do. “