News & Politics

Hundreds of Angry Cab Drivers Ally With Teamsters to Fight Taxi Regulations

More than 1,000 cabbies upset with new and sometimes expensive rules are getting support from the labor union.

A common complaint by taxi drivers since the introduction of credit card payments. Photograph by Flickr user Daniel Lobo.

“We will win!” was the cry coming from more than 800 cabbies who voted yesterday to allow the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to represent them in negotiations with the DC Taxicab Commission. “Together we will fight for justice, together we will fight to make sure your rights are ensured,” Teamsters Local 922 president Ferline Buie told the packed Teamsters hall in far Northeast, as cabbies chanted and waved placards

Taxi drivers have been required this year to upgrade their meters to accommodate credit-card payments, install new rooftop “dome” lights, and get uniform red-and-gray paint jobs, with costs for those improvements being paid for by the drivers.

While the new regulations are designed to improve customer experience, drivers have long complained about the uncertain costs in complying with the new regulations. For the dome lights, cabbies say they were originally told they would cost about $250, but drivers now say they have been charged $450 or more for installation.

Drivers also complain that some of the commission-approved vendors for credit card readers have been skimming usage fees of 5 percent or more. Cabbies would prefer to use Square, which only takes 2.75 percent, for passengers who want to pay with plastic. Many drivers use it anyway, albeit illicitly now as Square is not on the Taxicab Commission’s list of approved payment methods.

One of the commission’s selected vendors, USA Motors, said yesterday that it is pulling out, affecting more than 900 cabs that will now have to be outfitted with new payment systems.

Tuesday’s rally marked the formal creation of the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association. Many cab drivers already belong to smaller industry associations, but with 1,000 members—as the Teamsters claim—and union backing, the new organization has the potential to hold more sway over future regulatory fights. 

While the assembly had featured all the trimmings of a labor rally, technically, the cabbies are not formally unionizing—though they will pay new union dues of $25 per month to the Teamsters.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.