The Voice of DC Cab Drivers, May 29, 2011: DCTC Locks Drivers Out

LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF DC CAB DRIVERS, MAY 29:

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The DCTC locked its doors Friday rather than accept a petition with more than 900 taxicab driver signatures

A little before 1:00 p.m. on Friday, a dozen individuals attempted to present Interim D.C. Taxicab Commission Chair Dena Reed with a petition signed by more than 900 licensed D.C. taxicab drivers.

The signatories oppose Ms. Reed’s attempt to rewrite the taxicab industry’s legal framework, or Title 31. If approved by the Taxicab Commission, Ms. Reed’s proposed changes will do many things including: require drivers to buy a new car every five years; grant greater authority to Hack Inspectors; and allow for cab drivers to have their licenses suspended, not renewed or even revoked for having tires that are over- or under-inflated.

On Friday, what should’ve been a simple processing of the petitions instead resulted in drivers being locked out, and me being pushed out.

After the doors to the Taxicab Commission were locked, the office lights were turned off and the police were called. Interim Chair Dena Reed referred to the group as “a mob.”

Nathan Price is a board member of The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers and chair of the DC Professional Taxicab Drivers’ Association. As the drivers approached the Taxicab Commission, Price described what was taking place.

[Nathan Price]

Rather than accept the petition, security for the Taxicab Commission locked the drivers out and physically pushed me.

[DCTC security]

While this was happening several Taxicab Commission staffers looked on but none intervened. This may call into question the judgment of those at the highest levels of the Taxicab Commission, not just the security guard.

In fact, most troubling of all may have been the conduct of the interim chair herself. After keeping drivers locked out for half an hour, Ms. Reed finally allowed two driver representatives to meet with her, Nathan Price and Haimanot Bizuayehu, board member of The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers and chair of UVC.

According to both Price and Bizuayehu, Dena Reed referred to the drivers as “a mob.” Here are some of the voices of the so-called “mob” as they stood locked outside the D.C. Taxicab Commission. We begin with Haimanot Bizuayehu.

[Drivers share views outside the locked DCTC office]

Bizuayehu and Price described their conversation with Ms. Reed.

[Haimanot Bizuayehu and Nathan Price]

This is not the first time Ms. Reed has acted unprofessionally. Prior to becoming interim chair Ms. Reed served as general counsel to the Taxicab Commission. In that capacity she attempted to ban Fox5 photojournalist Jason Smith from filming a public meeting of the Taxicab Commission this past March.

[Dena Reed attempting to ban Jason Smith]

May 11, Interim Chair Dena Reed held the one and only public hearing on her attempted rewrite of Title 31. Posted on the walls of the Taxicab Commission were signs that stated in all capital letters, “NO TELEVISION CAMERAS, NO VIDEO TAPING, NO AUDIO TAPING.

Tuesday, May 31 is the final day to submit comments to the Taxicab Commission regarding Ms. Reed’s attempted rewrite of Title 31. You should be able to pick up or drop off the petitions at any of the companies or associations that make up The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers.

They include, in alphabetical order: Allied Cab, Ambassador Cab, Black Pearl Cab, Camel Cab, DC Professional Taxicab Drivers’ Association, Dominion of Cab Drivers, Grand Cab, Luxury Cab, Pleasant Cab, Seasons Cab, Swift Cab, Travelers Cab, UCC Cab, Washingtonian Cab, Welcome Cab, and Wonder Cab.

Wednesday, June 1 is a scheduled rally at 1:00 p.m. at Freedom Plaza, directly in front of the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW. Ali is a member of The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers and board member of Dominion of Cab Drivers. He now joins us in studio to talk about Wednesday’s rally at 1:00 p.m. at Freedom Plaza.

[Ali in studio]

Last Sunday, the Washington Post weighed in on the medallion issue in a big way. The top Sunday editorial was entitled “Taxi trouble: A proposed overhaul could break a D.C. system that’s running smoothly.”

We now turn to the Post editorial, read by the following D.C. taxicab drivers, in order of their appearance: Akinola Adetayo, Harry, Muhammad, Pete Harman, Muhammad Aqeel and Ali.

[Drivers reading Post editorial]

Also weighing in on the medallion issue this week was City Paper’s Alan Suderman, aka Loose Lips. Suderman’s piece is entitled “Taxicab Confessions.” Here is an excerpt, read by Yohannes Zacharias of Challenger Cab Company.

[Yohannes Zacharias]

“[E]veryone LL spoke with in and around the taxi industry says there’s one driving force behind the bill: Jerry Schaeffer, the city’s taxi king, who owns more than a dozen cab companies, sells cabbies insurance, and owns a whole lot of District land (including the parcel on New York Avenue NE where they city’s first Walmart may go).

“The theory among cabbies LL spoke to is this: Schaeffer hired Ray to draft the bill and is looking to use the medallion bill to snatch up as big a chunk of the taxi industry as possible. (For proof of how things work, they say, just look at Solomon Bekele, another bogeman in the hacks’ minds, who also sells insurance to District cab drivers and wound up cornering a quarter of the Atlanta taxi market after that city introduced a medallion-like system.)

“‘I don’t know why the newspaper guy is asking me… everybody knows it’s a Jerry Schaeffer bill,’ says Mohammad Momen, owner of Silver Cab and one of the fleet owners that is part of Ray’s coalition.”

This past week in Prince George’s County, taxicab drivers faced a possible setback. Last year, the Prince George’s County Taxi Workers Alliance achieved a major victory when they pushed through a 9-0 vote in the Prince George’s County Council that provided 390 medallions – or PGs - for independent drivers, rather than for the few big companies that dominate the county’s taxicab industry. To date only 254 of the 390 medallions have been issued to independent drivers. And now the Council is considering legislation that would prevent the remaining medallions from being issued.

Less than a year ago, District 2 Councilmember Will Campos voted in favor of providing the 390 medallions to independent drivers. However on Tuesday, in a meeting of the Transportation, Housing and Environment Committee, Campos said of last year’s vote, “I voted for it, but I was not in favor it.” I spoke with Councilmember Campos in his office and asked him about his change in position.

[Will Campos]

Getachew Mengesha is one of the lead organizers with the Prince George’s County Taxi Workers Alliance. He spoke outside the Prince George’s County Council on Tuesday.

[Getachew Mengesha]

Special thanks to Paul Kent for engineering tonight’s show.

* Several edits were made to the original post.

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