- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Reports of rampant complaints from D.C. taxicab passengers alleging assault or harassment by drivers turned out to be vastly overstated, the head of the city’s Taxicab Commission told a D.C. Council committee Wednesday.

The commission received 744 complaints from passengers in fiscal 2012 — far fewer than the 150 complaints per month that commission Chairman Ron M. Linton at a hearing earlier this year said were reported. The majority of the complaints, 215, were for improper fare charges, while just 33 complaints involved driver misconduct, including physical or verbal assaults.

No action could be taken on 325 of the complaints because the commission was not provided enough information to investigate.

“We have some 10,000 drivers that are providing this service, the vast majority of them not having any complaints,” Mr. Linton said.

But both passengers and drivers believe more safety measures are needed, witnesses testified at the hearing on taxicab safety. Most of those who make complaints are women and about 25 percent overall are tourists, Mr. Linton said.

Sharing a slew of her own horror stories, Jen Corey recounted the reasons why she no longer hails D.C. cabs. Ms. Corey, a representative of Collective Action for Safe Spaces, which works to stop sexual harassment in the District, said in one instance a driver became angry when she requested a ride late one night to her Friendship Heights home. The man began driving in the opposite direction and eventually abandoned her underneath a freeway.

While Ms. Corey noted that she has had great experiences with cab drivers as well, she added, “I cannot risk my safety in hopes that I get a good one.”

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chairwoman of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment that hosted Wednesday’s meeting, chided the commission for not keeping better data on complaints, including repeat complaints made against individual drivers and incidents of crimes committed against taxi drivers.

Mr. Linton said the commission was in the process of updating its computer system in order to log such information. Previously much of its data was logged by hand, he said. He also added that forthcoming rooftop dome lights — which will feature a unique number for each individual cab — will enable passengers to better identify a cab when they want to report an issue with a driver.

The lights, as well as credit card machines, are both required to be installed in all cabs by Sept. 1. The credit card machines could also be a boon to driver safety, as cabbies likely will be carrying less cash and might be less likely to be robbed as a result, Mr. Linton said.

Driver safety factored prominently into Wednesday’s discussion after Tuesday’s fatal shooting of 57-year-old taxicab driver Solomon Okoroh. Police arrested two men near the scene of the slaying after engaging in a shootout with one of the men.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat who represents the Adams Morgan area where the killing occurred, recommended taxis install plexiglass between the back and front seats of vehicles to protect drivers. But many drivers who attended the hearing bristled at the suggestion.

“It makes the job very impersonal and very difficult to work long hours and not have interaction with people,” said Massoud Medghalchi, a driver union representative.