Is classism behind D.C.’s push to regulate taxis, not Uber?

Photo courtesy of Uber

The Taxi Link airs on WUST 1120 AM. Listen to the Sept. 8 show here:

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“Uber is a classic example of… class economic warfare,” said Tony Norman, a D.C. ANC commissioner and co-host with TheFightBack‘s Pete Tucker of The Taxi Link, which airs on WUST 1120 AM and is sponsored by The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drives, D.C.’s largest cabbie organization. “The council and the mayor are giving Uber a pass simply because the bottom line is the clientele [they’re serving are] well-to-do middle class people who they feel are wonderful, safe, nice people.” Whereas in the eyes of city officials, said Norman, “regular cab drivers [are] just the lower class of people that we need to regulate. They’re just one step above criminals.” Or are they?

As part of D.C. taxi chair Ron Linton’s propaganda campaign to sell his taxi overhaul, which includes panic buttons in all D.C. cabs, he falsely accused drivers of committing a wave of assaults on female passengers. Linton’s criminalization of drivers is consistent with previous taxi chairs, including his immediate past predecessor, Dena Reed, who served as Linton’s general counsel until recently. When a dozen drivers attempted to present Reed with a petition signed by more than 900 drivers in opposition to proposed changes to the regulatory code, they were pushed out, locked out, referred to by Reed as “a mob,” and had the police called on them. But Reed may have been a moderate compared to her predecessor, Leon Swain, who wore a gun to commission meetings. Swain is a former police officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, as is Linton who served as an MPD reserve officer for 26 years. 

The continued criminalization of cabbies is the backdrop to everything the D.C. Taxicab Commission (DCTC) takes on. While New York City officials question whether the app-friendly Uber is operating legally, DCTC will hold two hearings this week on whether to regulate “sedan-class” vehicles like Uber, which it currently does not. The D.C. Council’s Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation, chaired by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, is scheduled to hold a hearing on the issue Sept. 24.

Also discussed on The Taxi Link was D.C.’s $35 million contract with VeriFone to install taxi smart meters in all 6,500 District cabs. Installation of the smart meters was recently halted by the Contract Appeals Board which is expected to rule in October on whether the contract was fairly awarded.

Both Monday and Wednesday’s meetings of the D.C. Taxicab Commission will take place at 10 a.m. at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th St., NW. Anyone wishing to testify at Wednesday’s hearing must call the Taxicab Commission at (202) 645-6018 by 4:30 p.m. Monday.

Related stories:
VeriFone contract suspended, Sept. 3, 2012


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