The out-of-county taxis that picked up people at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center last week when the hotel was evacuated before water was scheduled to be turned off broke Prince George’s law, a county official said Thursday.
The county is investigating the infractions, said Carol Terry, a spokeswoman for the Prince George’s Department of Public Works and Transportation. County ordinance allows only Prince George’s taxis to pick up passengers within the county.
In separate statements, the hotel and its transportation provider said the taxicabs were brought in to meet overwhelming transportation needs as the hotel braced for a water shut-off July 17.
The investigation comes amid complaints from the county’s taxi drivers, who say Gaylord National has made it more difficult in recent weeks for them to pick up fares at the popular National Harbor resort because it is operating its own car service.
“The action taken by Gaylord was not legal,” Terry said. “We are working with Gaylord to ensure that such infractions do not occur in the future.”
The AFL-CIO filed a complaint with the county’s transportation agency July 17. According to the complaint, about 50 independent county taxi drivers were ready to pick up passengers during the big checkout that day, but they “sat idly as Arlington and Washington flyer taxicabs picked up fares.”
In a statement, Gaylord National said the hotel decided to temporarily suspend operations July 17 when officials said they would be shutting off the water in southern Prince George’s. Most of the hotel’s 2,200 guests arranged their departures with the facility’s transportation desk.
The hotel’s transportation vendor, Veolia Transportation, arranged to have the additional vehicles brought in, according to Gaylord National. Veolia operates Washington Flyer and the Arlington taxicabs.
“Veolia also wanted to be prepared should the taxi drivers decide not to service the hotel that day — something they have done previously,” the statement said.
Gaylord National said independent county taxi drivers did not provide rides “to those guests that requested it. The only transportation available for these guests were the additional vehicles Veolia brought in to assist with pre-arranged transportation.” Dwight Kines, a Veolia spokesman, said the company has been told that the use of the Arlington and Washington Flyer taxicabs was “both advisable and legal under the circumstances.”
“We needed to be able to get the guests out reliably,” Kines said.
Beth Levie, the Washington-based organizer for the AFL-CIO who filed the complaint, said the drivers were ready to take passengers during the evacuation and had no plans to go on strike.
In June, Gaylord National launched the new service in response to feedback from guests, who they say have complained of language barriers, route choices and the unpredictably of the meter system in the cabs.
Each day, between 100 and 200 taxi drivers serve National Harbor and its six hotels on the shores of the Potomac River in Oxon Hill. Cabbies say most of their business comes from Gaylord National.
County officials met with representatives from Veolia and the Gaylord on Tuesday to address the complaint and other concerns brought up by the county taxi industry, Terry said.