Download the proposed DC taxicab medallion bill.
Throughout the U.S., in city after city, taxicab drivers are forced to become the equivalent of modern day sharecroppers. Despite working long hours and generating great wealth, taxicab drivers are often not the primary beneficiary of their own hard work, but instead enrich the owner of their taxicab (or the owner of their taxicab’s medallion). Watch Pete Tucker talk about the medallion bill on “More Room on the Outside”.
An exception to this unjust model is the District of Columbia, where many taxicab drivers own and operate their own vehicle. At least for now. Legislation introduced Tuesday by Councilmembers Harry Thomas, Marion Barry and Michael Brown has the potential to wipe out many of D.C.’s independent owner/operators through the introduction of a medallion system. The legislation defines a medallion as “a metal plate… affixed to a taxicab authorizing it to be operated.” Download the medallion bill.
In introducing the legislation, Barry, who claimed to have “met with several drivers from the coalition,” said, “The medallion system is used to regulate cabs in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and other cities… I support the medallion system because it would… give [taxicab drivers] an opportunity to get equity.” Barry pointed to New York City where medallions are “worth between $200,000 and $700,000. [With] the medallion system in New York, you go to the bank [and] you borrow money like you borrow it for a house… [So] this effort [will] give equity and equality to our cab drivers.”
The promise of equity is one that will be difficult for drivers to ignore, particularly since they are in dire straits. Under the previous mayor, D.C. taxicab drivers took a beating. Fenty implemented a $19 cap on all rides within the District, ended shared ridership, allowed hack inspectors to be aggressive and at times abusive, flooded the market with new drivers, and switched from a zone system to a “time and distance meter.” These actions resulted in a 30 percent drop in income, according to drivers.
While the “Professional Taxicab Standards and Medallion Establishment Act of 2011″ may provide some benefit to taxicab drivers who receive a medallion, it may prove to be a Trojan horse for D.C.’s taxicab industry. If a handful of large companies buy up the medallions, as has happened in city after city, within a few short years D.C.’s independent owner/operators may become a thing of the past.
Maybe even more troubling than the legislation itself is the fact that drivers from the “coalition” were not consulted, despite Barry’s claims to the contrary. Haimanot Bizuayehu, chairman of United Ventures Consortium, a federation of six cab companies, said, this bill “doesn’t include any input from the drivers who are the stakeholders of the industry.” Nathan Price, chairman of the DC Professional Taxicab Drivers’ Association, said, “The drivers should have been brought to the table. Who were the drivers that were supposed to be in this so-called ‘coalition’?… I question it.” Larry Frankel, chairman of both The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers and Dominion of Cab Drivers, said, “We were not consulted on this particular bill. Most of the D.C. Council and D.C. Taxicab Commission’s decisions are very ignorant because they haven’t relied on taxicab industry professionals.”
The D.C. Taxicab Commission (DCTC), which oversees the industry, does not have a single D.C. taxicab driver on it. This leads to instances like this morning’s hearing, which appears to be being held in contradiction to DCTC’s own regulations. No notice for the hearing was placed on the DCTC website despite the fact that DCTC Regulation states, “The chairperson may call special meetings of the Commission… by sending notice… not less than seven (7) days in advance.”
- Xenophobia and Taxicab Medallions
- Mayor Gray Fires D.C. Taxicab Commission Chair Leon Swain
- Leon Swain, Chairman at Arms
- How many D.C. taxicab drivers on the D.C. Taxicab Commission?
Listen to past shows of “The Voice of DC Cab Drivers” which airs Sunday nights from 7-8:00 p.m. on WUST 1120 AM.