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Washington taxi drivers are organizing.
A packed union hall roared in acclamation as hundreds of cabbies rose from their seats to confirm the creation of an association with the Teamsters on Tuesday afternoon, a move to form a single voice to convey complaints about new industry rules and regulations to the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
At a time when they would usually be picking up fares in downtown Washington, the cab drivers crammed into the union hall of the Teamsters Local 922 in Northeast D.C., their rainbow colored vehicles overflowing the parking lot. Union officials said more than one thousand drivers had already joined the association of independent owner- and lease-operators at dctaxidrivers.com. The cabbies agreed to pay $23 in monthly dues to the Teamsters.
"They're not against regulations. They feel it is important to modernize the fleet and do things in a progressive way," said Galen Munroe, a Teamsters spokesman. "The challenge here is the steps taken by the D.C. Taxicab Commission: the new credit card machines, the new dome lights, the new paint jobs, all of these things are being decided without their input.”
The view of the drivers may have been summed up by cabbie Aklile Redie: “We don't have representation on the D.C. Taxicab Commission.”
Many cab drivers have chafed under the modernization program implemented in fits and starts by the Taxicab Commission. For instance, cabs are required to accept credit card and smartphone payments through the new Modern Taximeter System installed in all vehicles. The system uses GPS to track trip data and collects a $.25 surcharge to fund the commission’s operations.
Drivers were required to sign contracts with any of eight payment service providers (PSPs) approved by the commission to process riders’ credit card transactions. Cabbies have complained about each and every one of these changes, citing privacy concerns, high credit card processing fees, glitchy equipment that frequently fails, and fares sporadically deposited into their bank accounts by their PSPs.
“These are guys that make only $25,000 to $30,000 dollars a year,” Munroe said. “They are working 12- to 16-hour days to make ends meet. Every fee and every small increase that is put upon them takes away from their bottom line.”
How the new drivers’ association plans to interact with the nine-member D.C. Taxicab Commission was unclear on Tuesday. Union officials said strategies would take shape once the new group establishes its membership.
The drivers did not seem too concerned about such details on their first day as an association. A feeling of solidarity as they stood shoulder to shoulder inside a packed union hall roaring their collective approval created a sense of optimism that they could change what many cabbies view as a rigged regulatory system digging into their pockets.
“I feel like it’s a long time in D.C. that we needed the Teamsters because we are not united yet. D.C. government is doing a lot of things without the [consideration] of the taxi drivers,” said Jamali Irfan.
A spokesman for the D.C. Taxicab Commission said drivers have two representatives on the commission, but declined to comment further on the Teamsters’ association. Commission chairman Ron Linton has said he is willing to meet the new group.