D.C. cab drivers complained Monday about having to collect a new 50-cent surcharge but not receiving any of the money -- even though they have to pay for new dome lights, a fresh coat of paint and, in some cases, new taxis under new regulations.
"These changes in the D.C. taxi industry are drastically increasing the cost of operating while decreasing revenue," Jeff Schaeffer, owner of the Liberty Cab Association, said at a D.C. Council oversight hearing Monday.
Schaeffer and other taxi drivers
complained that the city's quest to modernize its taxi fleet was giving them more competition in the form of Uber and other taxi mobile apps while increasing burdens for taxi owners and drivers -- such as requiring them to paint their cabs a city-mandated color.
"The city is not listening or considering the input from the current taxicab industry entrepreneurs that create jobs and contribute to the city's tax base," said Roy Spooner, of Yellow Cab Co. of DC. "Instead, they are listening and reacting to new entrants with deep pockets who threaten them with social media blitzes."
The D.C. Council last year approved a 50-cent surcharge to pay for modernizing cabs. The money was supposed to pay for "smart meters" in taxis that would take credit card payments. But when the city bungled that contract, it scrapped the idea and is now drafting regulations to let cab drivers choose -- and pay for -- their own system to take plastic payments, due to be installed in the city's cabs this summer.
But those regulations are still being written, and DC Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton is promising that the card readers won't cost drivers a dime -- even though the city isn't paying for them -- and that they may even bring drivers about 5 percent more income than they currently make. But he wouldn't release details of his plan.
"This is a very fluid situation. We are moving to try to find a formula in which drivers and owners of vehicles do not pay for the costs of the system they have. We are looking for a way to enhance their revenue, and we believe it's possible," Linton told the oversight committee Monday.
Linton said the 50-cent surcharge, which will go into effect this summer with the credit card payments, would pay for the operations of his commission. Linton said the money was designed to replace general tax dollars and that it would pay for hiring more hack inspectors and more clerks for the driver's services office.