From A To B (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C. Leaders Ponder A Plan To Modernize Taxicabs

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We begin this next story with a hypothetical question. How much would you be willing to spend for a better ride in a D.C. taxi? Why ask that question? Well, we'll find out in our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:25
All right, so here's the deal. The city's taxicab commission is proposing to tack on $0.50 to every taxi ride. That fee will be used to pay for a slew of improvements to an industry few people are happy with, including the cabbies themselves. Transportation reporter, Martin Di Caro, brings us the story.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

00:00:46
Union Station, please.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

00:00:49
I climb into Robert Scruggs' (sp?) taxi at 2:20 in the afternoon at the corner of 14th and G for a quick ride to Union Station. His cab is fairly clean, seems to run okay and the 18-minute ride covering two miles cost me $8. In other words, a pretty ordinary ride, but city officials say the experience should have been so much better.

MR. ROBERT SCRUGGS

00:01:08
Anything for improvement, I'm with it. I'm for it, anything for improvement.

CARO

00:01:13
Do you think people should be able to use credit cards to pay you?

SCRUGGS

00:01:15
Well, I mean, if they approve it, what can you say? You have to take it.

CARO

00:01:21
Scruggs is right, and the improvements won't stop at credit card machines. Under a plan awaiting the approval of the D.C. Council, all city taxis would also have smart meters with GPS that monitor routes and calculate fares as well as driver and passenger safety buttons to alert the police if there's a problem. There will also be internet display screens and new driver ID panels in the backseat. All of this would be paid for by adding a 50 cent surcharge on all rides.

SCRUGGS

00:01:46
Is this going to be a true thing?

CARO

00:01:52
You're worried the money will be used for something else?

SCRUGGS

00:01:54
And the money not be there.

CARO

00:01:56
For any skeptical cabbies out there, D.C.'s taxicab commissioner Ron Linton has an answer. The surcharge will not flow into the general budget. It will be placed in a new Consumer Service Fund.

MR. RON LINTON

00:02:06
That fund by law could not have any funds expended unless it was for the taxicab industry.

CARO

00:02:14
Linton, who took on the task of overhauling the District's taxicab industry last August, also has an answer for cabbies who balk at surcharges and improvements.

LINTON

00:02:22
What they don't understand and they've said this at our hearings. Why are we being so rigid in our regulations? And I had to inform them at that as far as I knew, there was no commercial operation in the District of Columbia that is regulated by the government.

CARO

00:02:39
Some cabbies may resist change, but city leaders say that people want change. D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who is sponsoring the surcharge legislation, asks residents to respond to a survey and the results were telling. Only 18 percent rated taxi service good. 42 percent said it's fair, 36 percent said its poor and compared to other cities, D.C. taxis are rated worse by 69 percent of survey respondents. Outside the Union Station Taxi Line, Jerry Horn from New York agrees with that.

MR. JERRY HORN

00:03:08
I've taken the cab service here in Washington when I was working. I worked a lot down here even though I'm from New York and I was not all that excited about it.

CARO

00:03:17
Ask cabbies what the city should do to help them and the first thing they tell you is raise fares. They don't trust the city meddling with their vehicles and some immediately dismissed the surcharge proposal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ONE

00:03:26
So who's going to get the money?

CARO

00:03:28
A trust fund would be set up.

ONE

00:03:29
I don't trust the city.

CARO

00:03:31
Why not?

ONE

00:03:32
Why not? Because I don't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE TWO

00:03:34
The credit card machines, we have to have it, but the GPS system, it's not constitutional to have GPS to track us wherever we go.

CARO

00:03:45
Are you for credit card machines?

ONE

00:03:46
No, I'm not.

CARO

00:03:48
Most people want them, though.

ONE

00:03:49
If that's what they think, it's probably okay then, you know, but I really don't appreciate them because it's going to cost me more money to stay in business.

CARO

00:03:59
Actually, credit card processing fees would be covered by the new fund and cabbies are also getting a fare increase. As early as April 20th the per mile charge will rise from a $1.50 to $2.16 while surcharges for luggage and extra passengers will end. At AAA Mid-Atlantics downtown offices spokesman John Townsend says the higher fare and proposed 50 cent surcharge and taxi improvements are exactly what both cabbies and the public need.

MR. JOHN TOWNSEND

00:04:24
It's almost like you have entered a time warp when you enter a cab in the District of Columbia. It's almost like looking at the vehicle fleet in Cuba, dilapidated, old, antiqued.

CARO

00:04:35
As for a proposal to paint all cabs the same color, Linton says it's not high on his agenda.

LINTON

00:04:41
I don't oppose it, but I'm not going to expend energy when we have more important things to accomplish.

CARO

00:04:49
As for cabbie Robert Scruggs, who's been driving a cab in this city since the Eisenhower Administration and has seen big ideas come and go, he wants to see results before he offers praise.

SCRUGGS

00:04:59
And it ends up that nothing is done on the proposal or whatever you're asking for. Nothing is done.

CARO

00:05:09
Maybe he'll change his mind once he sees his receipts following the first month of the fare increase. His passengers are sure going to notice with the surcharge and higher fare being weighed by the D.C. Council, a typical two mile, say, in light traffic would increase from about $7 to nearly $9 not including tip. I'm Martin Di Caro.

SHEIR

00:05:31
What changes would you like to see in the District's taxicabs? Let us know by sending an email to metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

00:05:59
In a minute, spending political capital on the next generation of Washington leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ONE

00:06:05
What the students see are people who they normally see on television. They see them live, looking directly into their eyes and saying, we need you to come up here and take our place.

SHEIR

00:06:20
It's coming up on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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