- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A technology firm on the losing end of a contract to install “smart meters” in the District’s taxicabs filed a complaint Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court to stop the city from installing its competitor’s machines.

Creative Mobile Technologies, one of two firms protesting the city’s decision to award a $35 million contract to VeriFone Systems, asked for a temporary restraining order a few hours after Mayor Vincent C. Gray kicked off the 90-day installation project by showing off a smart meter in Northeast.

CMT wants the court to bar the city immediately from installing VeriFone machines until the D.C. Contract Appeals Board can rule on whether the city can proceed with the project. The board will rule by Aug. 31 and could put the whole project on hold indefinitely while the protests are fully vetted and adjudicated.

Mr. Gray and D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron M. Linton said the city has done nothing wrong. They are pushing ahead with the plan to equip about 6,500 cabs in 90 days because the contract appeals board has not issued any order prohibiting them from installing the machines.

CMT attorney A. Scott Bolden responded that the city has gone without smart meters for decades, so requiring officials to wait 10 days for the board’s decision is “far from an emergency.” In the filing, he argues the public’s interest in “a fair, competitive procurement system” outweighs the District’s interest in proceeding with the VeriFone installations.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, cited the ongoing protests after placing a legislative hold on a contract modification that would have allowed the District to pay $1.3 million for the installation of the smart meters instead of forcing drivers to pick up the tab.

Mr. Barry initially said this week he wanted to make sure D.C. residents performed the installations at local, minority-owned entities known as certified business enterprises. He put out a press release late Tuesday that urged Mr. Gray and the D.C. Taxicab Commission to “abide by the law” by waiting for the appeals board to rule on the protests by CMT and the other protesting firm, RideCharge.

“We’ve been following the law since the very beginning,” Mr. Gray said. “We’re moving forward. It really is a shame that we are in this situation.”

Mr. Gray said 12 certified business enterprises will do the work, providing jobs for city residents, and refuted any suggestion that the city ultimately wants taxi drivers to pay for the installation.

“We have no backroom, front-room, side-room, sidewalk, alley plan to do anything,” he said. “We said we would pay for the drivers, and if Mr. Barry would lift his resolution of disapproval, this would be taken care of in the manner that had been intended in the first place.”

Mr. Linton said the city is looking at a way to resolve the payment issue by the time one-fourth of the installations are completed, “but in the interim, [drivers] have to pay.” He said any drivers who are forced to pay the upfront costs would be reimbursed.

Besides the use of smart meters, the District is phasing out old taxis, increasing the number of wheelchair-accessible cabs and establishing a single color scheme for cabs in the District.

Many taxi drivers have protested the plan as a costly mandate that foists governmental decisions on them instead of letting them run their small businesses. Drivers who already have credit card readers have argued they should be allowed to choose the vendor they want to use.

Mr. Gray said the city has tried to help drivers by raising fares, lifting the $19 cap on trips and allowing a surcharge that helped with the price of fuel. He said credit card readers could protect taxi drivers from robbery because they will not be traveling with large amounts of cash.

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