A D.C. Council committee pressed the head of the city taxicab commission for two hours about exactly how he planned to reform the District's maligned taxi industry if legislators approved a bill that includes a 50-cent surcharge to every ride.
Many of the more than 100 cab drivers who jammed into the crowded hearing room on Monday opposed the legislation, which would require D.C. cabs to accept credit cards, be equipped with satellite navigation systems and to be painted the same color. It also calls for hospitality training for drivers.
The 50-cent surcharge, in addition to revenue from ads playing inside cabs, would pay for the upgrades.
Members of the council committee took turns detailing what they saw as the industry's accessibility for all residents and wanted more specifics from DC Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton about how this bill would solve the problem.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Muriel Bowser wanted to know how the reform would make cabs more accessible for her constituents, many of whom are older and don't live near a Metro stop.
"The people of Ward 4 can't get a cab," she told Linton. "So the best option ... is to walk, get on a bus or have someone drop them off at the Silver Spring Metro."
Linton said spread-out areas were not as economically efficient for cabs to troll, but other cities were considering introducing conveniences such as apps that allow riders to hail cabs through their smartphones.
"This bill will give us the authority to make those kinds of studies ... on how to make that economically feasible," he said.
Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells, who has called for the dissolution of the DC Taxicab Commission, said he didn't like that the commission was in charge of setting the per-ride surcharge to pay for the reforms.
"I think that to now trust the Taxicab Commission to set additional rates to fund itself and to fund these other devices, I don't trust the [commission] yet to have the track record to do this," Wells said.
Many cab drivers, who operate as independent business owners, oppose the legislation because they say a proposed age limit for cabs will price them out of business. They also don't trust the proposed equipment, which would also send data on average trip lengths and cost to the commission for research purposes.
Some are also opposed to a quota on the number of taxis and drivers.