Taxi commission to cabbies: Pay up or else


D.C. taxi leaders Haimanot Bizuayehu and Negede Abebe

The Taxi Link airs Sat. 7-8 pm on WUST 1120 AM. Listen here

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Without being informed of the specifics of what they’re accused of, cab drivers say they can be summoned to the D.C. Taxicab Commission and given the option of making a payment, at times $500, to make their charges disappear. “If you want this thing to go away, just pay this amount of money and then we’ll cancel it, we’ll dismiss the case,” taxi leader Haimanot Bizuayehu said, describing what drivers can be told by the commission. 

“The commission doesn’t have any budget [so they’re] trying to make money from everywhere… [and] they are milking drivers,” Bizuayehu told The Taxi Link. “[This] forces the drivers to make a payment. That’s not the right process,” said Mechal Chame. “[Drivers] have to be told ahead of time – ahead of time – the nature of the complaint.”

In a related matter, Ephream Eshete’s taxi license remains suspended even though the criminal charges against him were dismissed. The commission maintains that Eshete is guilty of a civil violation of the D.C. code. Without providing Eshete an opportunity to defend himself, the commission suspended his license indefinitely. Subsequently the case was heard by the Office of Administrative Hearings which has yet to issue a ruling. Eshete’s “license [should] be reinstated,” said Chame.

Meanwhile, the commission held a special meeting this week on its proposed rulemakings for taxi smart phone apps and sedan-class vehicles, which received scrutiny from an unlikely source. In comments submitted to the taxi commission, the Federal Trade Commission said some of the “rules proposed by DCTC may unnecessarily impede competition.”

“Once again this commission is trying to rush through regulations,” said The Taxi Link co-host Tony Norman. The commission’s last major initiative – a $35 million taxi smart meter contract with Verifone – was overturned by the courts due to irregularities in the procurement proceess. “They need to just slow down and really… become a true deliberative body and take their time and legislate properly,” said Norman.

Some of the confusion this time around is because the D.C. Council is “sending a conflicting message to the commission,” said Bizuayehu, who is a board member of The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers. Last year’s taxi overhaul required all D.C. cabs to install credit card readers by August 31. Initially, the commission said all credit card transactions would go through these readers. But then Uber, the largely unregulated phone app and sedan service, raised a ruckus over not being able to process its customers’ credit cards, and council members soon raised similar concerns.

Elsewhere, Prince George’s County cab drivers continued to protest at National Harbor, the luxury resort and mini-city on the Potomac River. In response to the demonstrations outside Gaylord National, the largest hotel on the east coast, county police began issuing tickets to drivers who honked their horn in solidarity, particularly cabbies. “This is police harassment,” said Anteneh Zelek, who has been a cab driver at National Harbor since it opened five years ago. (TheFightBack’s tweets on the police response were highlighted in a post for the AFL-CIO’s Union City.)

National Harbor taxi leaders are scheduled to meet with county officials Monday to discuss a possible solution to their situation.

* This Sunday’s Washington Post Style section features Hailu Mergia. The Ethiopian music star, who drives a cab for Washington Flyer at Dulles airport, is re-releasing his 1985 solo album next month.

* A petition started by Alexandria cab driver Eyob Abay demands the mayor and council give drivers “the freedom to leave abusive, unfair cab companies.” The petition says, “Because we have no right to move companies if we dislike our working conditions, we have two options: Stay with our companies and continue to suffer, or quit our jobs as cab cab drivers.”

* This post was edited slightly since its initial posting.

The Taxi Link airs Saturday 7-8 p.m. on WUST 1120 AM. The show is sponsored by The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers, hosted by TheFightBack’s Pete Tucker and D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B chairman Tony Norman, produced by Will Martin and engineered by Mark Taylor, with special thanks to Girma Degefa.

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