News & Politics

Teamsters and Taxi Drivers Sue DC Over Credit Card Readers and Rooftop Lights

Cab drivers want even more time to come into compliance with modernization requirements.

A week after DC taxicab drivers voted to let the Teamsters represent them, the union and the hacks are suing the DC Taxicab Commission in an attempt to stop the city from enforcing year-old regulations requiring cabs to modernize.

The suit, filed late Tuesday in DC Superior Court, comes after a weekend during which the commission began ticketing and towing taxis that have not complied with the rules mandating they have approved credit-card readers and new rooftop “dome” lights.

Drivers have been complaining for weeks that the new lamps, intended to make cabs more visible to potential customers, are expensive and troublesome to operate. In the suit, the Teamsters-drivers group says there is now a long waiting list to get the lights installed, putting drivers who haven’t yet made the upgrade in a regulatory squeeze.

As a result, Teamsters spokeswoman Leigh Strope says, many cabbies are refusing to drive. The lawsuit, which follows on a letter sent Monday to Mayor Vince Gray, seeks to halt enforcement, set subsidies for the cost of installing the new dome lights and credit-card meters, and add another driver to the Taxicab Commission, which includes two drivers among its nine members.

Gray’s spokesman Pedro Ribeiro brushes off the lawsuit as another foot-dragging tactic on the drivers’ part.

“For the past few years the drivers have been their own worst enemy,” he says. “We barely have a third-world taxicab system in this city.”

Another common complaint by drivers recently is that several of the vendors approved by the commission to supply credit-card readers have been negligent in making payments. The city signed a contract in July 2012 to Verifone for a uniform brand of credit card device in every cab, but a judge threw out the contract after drivers complained that they were prevented from choosing their vendor.

“[Drivers] recognize the need to accommodate their customers,” Strope says. But after years of contract arguments and offering multiple extensions to drivers for coming into compliance with regulations, city officials are intent on forcing cabs into modernity.

“Reform has moved without them because they have refused to reform,” Ribeiro says.


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.