- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A citywide cabdriver strike stranded many residents and visitors yesterday, causing lines of travelers waiting for taxis to stretch as long as 50 people deep in some parts of the District.

Many travelers said they didn’t know about the strike. Some abandoned the lines for Metro, while others stuck it out because they didn’t know their way around the city. Most affected by the strike were out-of-town professionals, some of whom waited as long as 30 minutes to catch a cab at Union Station.

“I’m extremely aggravated,” said Sandra Edelman, a lawyer from New York City who was on her way to argue a case in court yesterday afternoon. “You want to assume transportation operations are reliable and you can depend on them. If you can’t depend on them, then you won’t take them in the future.”

Christopher J. Christie, U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, said he was worried he would be late for a business meeting.

“I had to come down here for business today, and usually this time of day you never have to wait for a cab,” said Mr. Christie, 42. “I’ve got someplace I’ve got to get to, so it’s definitely frustrating.”

Cab dispatchers at Union Station doubled the loads for those drivers who were working. Passengers headed to the same area ended up sharing cabs.

“Normally, we have cabs lined up,” said William Philpot, a cab dispatcher for Amtrak. “Today, we’ve been getting cabs once in a while. It’s affecting the passengers, for sure.”

Across town at the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, John McRavion, 64, a retired rodeo bronco rider from Northeast, waited 30 minutes for a taxi outside a Giant food store — in vain. “There’s nothing you can do about it,” Mr. McRavion said. He eventually caught a ride with some friends.

Many D.C. taxi drivers went on strike from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. yesterday to protest a plan by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams to reform the cab system in the city. The plan calls for abolishing the D.C. Taxicab Commission and begin a pilot program putting meters in cabs. It would switch from a zone fare system the administration says is confusing and cheats customers.

The Taxicab Industry Group, led by William J. Wright, urged the city’s estimated 6,600 licensed cabdrivers to strike yesterday.

“We need to talk with the mayor and members of the city council,” said Mr. Wright, an 82-year-old part-time cabdriver with Capitol Cab Co. “They don’t talk with you, and they’re doing things that are hurting us. If they would listen to us, we believe they would change their minds.”

Mr. Williams’ proposal specifically would abolish the nine-member commission and replace it with a Taxicab and Limousine Services Administration, which would fall under the authority of the D.C. Department of Transportation. The body would be led by an administrator appointed by the transportation director.

“The Taxicab Commission just doesn’t function well,” said Chris Bender, a spokesman for the deputy mayor’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. “That’s not to say the people don’t do a good job; they try. But the commission itself is very cumbersome. We want to set up a more streamlined agency that can answer to drivers, owners and consumers much more quickly. It’s all about customer service.”

Mr. Williams also proposed raising $350,000 from community businesses to start a pilot program that would outfit 24 to 32 cabs with fare meters for about eight months. After that, administrators would decide whether to replace the zone fare system with meter-based fares.

The city has tried before to switch to meters, but many cabdrivers are opposed, saying it would be too expensive for some people who take taxis to outlying neighborhoods.

Mr. Wright said using a meter system in the District would put some drivers out of business.

“Once you get outside [the city] and into traffic, there are thousands of people who ride a cab every day now who would not be riding a cab once you have a meter,” he said. “All these things the mayor is doing are making it extremely hard to operate as an independent cabdriver.”

The legislation also calls for drivers to purchase their car insurance six months in advance, instead of buying it week to week.

A public hearing on the legislation was scheduled for last night. Mr. Bender said officials hoped the D.C. Council approves the legislation by next month so the measures could take effect early next year.

Mr. Wright threatened more strikes if his group’s concerns are not heard. “If they don’t back off from this stuff, then we’re going to have to strike, strike, strike,” he said.

• Arlo Wagner contributed to this report.

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