News & Politics

Cab Drivers and Teamsters Shut Down Taxi Commission Meeting Over New Regulations

Complaints from hundreds of drivers about rooftop lights caused the meeting to end early.

Dozens of drivers who couldn't make it inside protested in the cold. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Hundreds of angry cab drivers jammed the lobby of the DC government building at 441 Fourth Street, Northwest, where the DC Taxicab Commission was meeting this morning, continuing their protest against recently enacted regulations requiring cabs to modernize.

The meeting became so raucous with outbursts from disgruntled cabbies, who were encouraged to attend by the Teamsters union, that the commission’s chairman, Ron Linton, was adjourn the session early, prompting shouts of, “Shame on you!” Cabbies are still steamed about having to install new rooftop lights, which they say have cost around $450, more than what they were initially advised. They are also upset that for the past few weeks, the Taxicab Commission has been ticketing and towing cabs that do not have the new lamps, which were supposed to be installed by November 1.

“I don’t have any problem with updating the taxi system,” said Birhana Gebreyes, a driver who says he put in the new light before the deadline. “They just impose it on us. There’s unfair treatment by the inspectors.”

The commission had offered drivers who submitted written testimony in advance to speak at the meeting, but the scene inside quickly unraveled when dozens of hacks demanded time. Many more drivers who couldn’t make it past security were left to stand outside in the cold chanting with Teamsters representatives. More than 1,800 cabbies have signed up for a recently formed drivers’ association that the Teamsters are representing, the labor group said.

Drivers also want the commission to include more members from their ranks. The commission’s current makeup includes two drivers, but Gebreyes said they do not represent their colleagues well. “We don’t have enough representation,” he said.

But the drivers might be overstating some of their grievances at this point. Neville Waters, a spokesman for the Taxicab Commission, told Washingtonian that through last Friday, 5,500 of the city’s 6,500 cabs now sport the new lights, with hundreds more scheduled to get them this week. Additionally, there have been only 30 enforcement actions against cabs not in compliance, Waters said.

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.