News & Politics

Taxi Drivers Are Going to Take Over Pennsylvania Avenue at Lunch on Wednesday

Cabbies plan to protest Uber and Lyft by blockading the streets.

Taxis filled up Pennsylvania Avenue and side roads like 12th Street during their June protest. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Thinking of cruising down Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, during the middle of the day? Think again, because there will probably be close to 1,000 taxicabs in your way.

A caravan of taxi drivers, ticked off that the DC Council is poised to give a wide berth to transportation apps like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, plans to drive up to Freedom Plaza and blockade Pennsylvania Avenue to demand that drivers who work through the apps be subject to the same stringent regulations cabbies have to obey. The demonstration is a repeat of one in June, when more than 1,000 drivers clogged the roads around the John A. Wilson Building and brought midday traffic to a standstill.

The gas-guzzling protest is being organized by Teamsters Local 922, which oversees an association of more than 2,000 cabbies. Taxi drivers say their earnings have plummeted by as much as 30 percent in the past year as the popularity of so-called “ride-sharing” apps like Uber and Lyft, which set their rates well below the city-mandated taxi fares, has risen. But they might not want to expect much out of today’s show of force, other than befuddled bystanders and suddenly aggravated motorists and cyclists. The bill sanctioning the ride-sharing apps passed its first Council vote yesterday by an 11-0 margin and seems guaranteed to win its final vote later this month.

The bill, introduced by Council members Mary Cheh and David Grosso, requires companies like Uber and Lyft to insure their drivers with $1 million insurance policies, conduct criminal background checks, and issue decals or hood adornments to their affiliated cars—largely codifying steps the companies already say they take. Even Uber, which is famously tetchy about government intervention, is willfully on board with this one.

“We applaud Councilmembers Cheh and Grosso for their leadership in moving legislation forward that embraces more options and opportunity for Washingtonians,” an Uber spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

Grosso dismissed the June taxi caravan as a “bullying tactic.”

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

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.