From A To B: Cabbies, Commuters Raise Their Voices Over Transportation Woes (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From A To B: Cabbies, Commuters Raise Their Voices Over Transportation Woes

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Jonathan Wilson, in for Rebecca Sheir, and this week we're exploring the theme Wisdom. And we'll get some wisdom from the world of transportation now, in our regular segment, "From A To B."

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:30
Transportation reporter Martin Di Caro is here in studio with us to talk trains, busses, bicycles and cars. Hey there, Martin.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

00:00:36
Hey, Jonathan, how are you?

WILSON

00:00:37
So Martin, it's been a rough couple of weeks for cab drivers and Metro riders. Let's start with the cabbies. About 300 taxi drivers recently shouted down regulators at a meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. What were they so angry about?

CARO

00:00:52
Well, first, let's listen to how angry they actually were.

CARO

00:01:03
The D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton started reading a letter, a complaint letter he received from a cab customer unhappy with an experience in a cab. And the cabbies simply would have none of it. And Linton adjourned the meeting. And then after the meeting cab drivers approached the dais and it also got kind of ugly. Let's listen to that.

CARO

00:01:28
So what they're angry about -- well, there are an array of problems. The credit card processing companies issue is the big one that we've been discussing on WAMU 88.5. The cab drivers had a choice of eight payment processing companies. For instance, when you're in the backseat of a cab, you swipe your card, the company that processes that payment takes its fee and then sends the rest to the driver. Well, the cab drivers had a choice of eight companies from which to choose. Some of them have been good. Some of them have not been good.

CARO

00:01:55
One of them already went out of business and 900 cab drivers had to find a new payment processor. Another one of those companies, a D.C.-based tech startup named Hitch, has been fined by the D.C. Taxicab Commission for failing to pay drivers. Hitch says it has done nothing wrong and is appealing those fines. So cab drivers have a lot of pent-up frustration. They don't feel like they have a voice in the process. And they've recently associated themselves with the Teamsters Union. It was the Teamsters who organized the cab drivers, had them show up for a rally before that Taxicab Commission meeting, got them somewhat riled up, as you could hear. And they basically shut the meeting down by protesting Chairman Linton's letter.

WILSON

00:02:33
So this sounds like a complete mess, but what do the cabbies hope to get from their association with the Teamsters Union?

CARO

00:02:40
On a practical level they want more representation on the D.C. Taxicab Commission and the mayor's office here in D.C. has basically said, sorry, that's not going to happen.

WILSON

00:02:48
All right. Well, let's now talk about Metro.

CARO

00:02:51
Oh, boy.

WILSON

00:02:51
I think it is fair to say that regular rail riders will put up with a delay or two here or there, but lately things have become more frustrating than usual for some passengers. Tell us what's been going on.

CARO

00:03:04
Have you been on the Red Line recently?

WILSON

00:03:06
Not recently. And I guess you're going to tell me that's a good thing.

CARO

00:03:07
Good for you. Well, in the span of a week and a half there were three major problems on the Red Line during morning rush hour. And the performance was so bad that Metro GM, Richard Sarles, offered this apology.

MR. RICHARD SARLES

00:03:20
I know that the commute for our Red Line riders has been really bad in three days over the last week. They have every right to be angry, frustrated. The delays have been long. I understand that.

WILSON

00:03:38
So I guess the question passengers want to have answered is, when will things get better with these delays?

CARO

00:03:44
Well, Metro's answer is a familiar one. It's not a popular one. There are three more years of this rebuilding program before customers may notice a complete difference from what they're experiencing now. But with each of these three incidents there was a different cause of the problem. In one case, a power cable was hanging from a tunnel underground. So riders have reason to be impatient. Metro continues to ask for their patience.

WILSON

00:04:10
All right. Let's figuratively take the escalators -- if they're working -- out of the Metro Rail System up to the surface now to talk about roads. You've been reporting on an issue facing the entire District and the way it deals with how the city actually divides up road space.

CARO

00:04:25
That's right. The story was about Wisconsin Avenue, but this is an issue that transcends any one neighborhood. It was trying to make Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park safer for pedestrians and bicyclists by taking the three lanes in each direction, six lanes total, and narrowing that down to five lanes, two lanes in each direction and a center turning lane. During non-rush hours, it was one lane in each direction after the change, because you can also now park on the outside lane. So after six months -- these changes were done about a year ago, six lanes down to five. After six months DDOT scrapped the new lane configuration north of Calvert Street and went back to the old six lanes.

CARO

00:05:03
Now, the local ANC, ANC 3B, is going to ask the D.C. council to get rid of the changes south of the Calvert Street intersection because motorists and businesses have been complaining about traffic bottlenecks. And there's going to be a hearing before the D.C. council December 4th, Mary Cheh, the councilmember of the 3rd Ward, she is the chair of the transportation committee. And she will be discussing the following issue.

MS. MARY CHEH

00:05:26
I think our experiment with the change in the lanes has not worked out well. That is to say I still think there are many things we haven't done and must do to protect pedestrians, but maybe all we wound up doing was frustrating drivers as they tried to drive through that area.

WILSON

00:05:44
Have the changes been working? Have they been affective?

CARO

00:05:47
Well, I've been giving you a lot of anecdotal evidence, motorists complaining, businesses complaining. DDOT is actually doing an assessment of the traffic change and that assessment is not available yet. It's going to end next month because that's about one full year since they implemented these changes. So it's hard to tell with any data available whether or not the changes have been effective. If you're a driver who gets stuck in a bottleneck, you would say no. If you're a pedestrian who's happy the traffic is moving slower on Wisconsin Avenue, you would say yes.

WILSON

00:06:18
All right. Now, comes the good part, Martin. Do you have some happy news for us? Please.

CARO

00:06:22
I know, it's all train delays, cabbies are angry, projects not getting finished. The 15th Street bike lane, the protected bike lane, is just about done. And the bicyclists are using it again and they love it. Just some painting and striping that has to be completed, but that is a project that DDOT has finished -- late, but they finished it.

WILSON

00:06:42
All right. Well, I guess we'll have to take our good news where we can get it. Martin Di Caro, thanks for very much for joining us.

CARO

00:06:48
You're welcome.

WILSON

00:06:49
And if you've got a transportation topic you think we should be covering, we're at metro@wamu.org or you can find us on Facebook.
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