Taxis Hit with Costly Mandates As Unregulated Competitors Move In

Aleme Tadesse and Addis Aemero. Photo courtesy of WAMU

Aleme Tadesse and Addis Aemero. Photo by WAMU

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With a commission-mandated deadline looming, and a great deal of confusion ensuing, D.C. cab drivers must rush to sign major contracts, some for as long as five years.

Two cabbies have called on the commission to push back by one month the drop-dead date for installation of the new smart meter systems. A petition started by Aleme Tadesse and Addis Aemero has garnered more than 400 driver signatures in just a few days. But D.C. taxi chair Ron Linton said he’s moving ahead nonetheless. “I do not understand what the issue is,” Linton told WAMU.

“I’ve not been able to get enough information to determine how it operates,” cabbie Leroy Swain said of the mandated smart meter system. While saying he supports credit card machines in all cabs, Swain said the commission has overstepped its mandate by requiring much more from drivers, who are struggling.

“[Our] profit margins are already extremely thin. There’s not a lot extra that you can set aside to accommodate what I consider this Alice-in-Wonderland kind of concept,” Swain told TheFightBack at the offices of Classic Cab Company in northeast D.C.

In addition to signing commission-mandated contracts with the now-ten approved Payment Service Providers, cabbies must also come up with $400 or more to pay for a commission-mandated dome light, which was supposed to cost drivers around $150.

At the very same time that these burdensome mandates are placed on cabbies, the largely unregulated sedan and ride-sharing services are expanding their presence in D.C.

This week, Uber launched its UberX service, which utilizes smaller vehicles than its standard black sedans. According to Linton, Uber’s smaller cars are not eligible to pick up passengers in D.C. But Uber launched UberX anyway, with National’s third baseman Ryan Zimmerman as “Rider Zero.”

Meanwhile, the ride-sharing company Lyft also entered D.C. this week. One local blog wrote excitedly about the new service, saying, “People can sign up to be cab drivers when they want.” Another noted, “It’s not clear what legal or regulatory obstacles, if any, Lyft will face in D.C.”

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