Taxi reform bill clears D.C. Council hurdle

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DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

A move to modernize D.C.’s taxicabs cleared a major hurdle in the council Tuesday.

The council gave a preliminaryapproval to a bill that would require a variety of upgrades to the city's cabs in exchange for a fare increase that was approved earlier. The new requirements would include credit card readers, GPS navigation and panic buttons in all of the city’s cabs.

Restaurant and hotel representatives and local residents have been pushing for taxi reforms for years, while many cab drivers oppose the new requirements championed by Mayor Vince Gray and Council member Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3.

The council voted 9-4 to advance the bill. Council members Vincent Orange, Kwame Brown, Marion Barry and Jack Evans opposed the bill. Orange and Barry said disabled people and cab drivers were shortchanged by the bill.

“This bill itself is more of a hindrance than a help,” Barry said. “If this bill passes, it does not put one new cab that’s [handicap] accessible on the streets of the District of Columbia, which means the disabled community is again left waiting.”

Orange proposed that the District adopt a medallion system, which provides drivers with permits that could then be sold for a profit when the driver retires or passed on to a family member. He said the current meter system leaves drivers destitute at the end of their careers.

“Why are D.C. residents always the last ones? Why do D.C. residents always have to be second-class citizens? We get that from Congress, and we get that from ourselves," he said.

But council members Tommy Wells and Phil Mendelson said a medallion system would favor special interests, funneling money back to large corporations.

“It really is quite disturbing what the opposition is here,” Mendelson said.

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