D.C. Cab Driver Associations File Lawsuit Against Taxi Commission

WASHINGTON -- Two D.C. taxicab drivers' associations are suing the D.C. Taxicab Commission, its chairman and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray alleging unfair regulatory practices by the city. Among the complaints, according to the lawsuit: The D.C. Taxicab Commission lacks proper representation by the taxi industry, as required by law; has set arbitrary rates that drivers see as unreasonable; has "conducting public meetings in an unlawful way designed to exclude input from drivers who are adversely affected by the current rate structure," and has created conditions that have forced drivers to work longer hours to make ends meet, which has in turn lead to increases of heat attacks, strokes, diabetes and stress-related ailments.

The two drivers' groups, the Dominion of Cab Drivers and the D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association, are being represented by the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, which is representing the groups on a pro bono basis and plans to file an amended suit that also names the District of Columbia as a defendant.

Other allegations in the suit:

The District’s hack inspectors, the public safety officials charged with inspecting taxicabs and enforcing taxicabs regulations, have committed numerous systematic abuses against the District’s taxicab drivers, including racial profiling, unlawful searches, and improper ticketing.

During last year's mayoral primary, Gray enjoyed heavy support from cab drivers, many angered by the decision of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty to scrap the decades-old zone-based fare system for a metered system.

As The Washington Post reported at the time, hundreds of cab drivers worked to get Gray elected:

Taxi drivers, even those who don't live in the District, have passed out anti-Fenty and pro-Gray fliers for months. Gray's database of cabbies willing to drive voters to the polls numbered at least 500, according to campaign officials and cab companies.

Now, the associations that represent them are suing the man they hoped would advocate on their behalf at the Wilson Building.

Among other requests, the lawsuit is asking the court to remove Inder Raj Pahwa from the taxicab commission, alleging that Pahwa has served too many terms on the commission, a violation of the D.C. Taxicab Commission Establishment Act; and orders the commission to "expeditiously" conduct a rate study and "establish a reasonable rate schedule for taxicab services following, and based upon, the results of a properly-conducted rate study."

For more details, read a copy of the lawsuit here.

UPDATE, 6:15 p.m.: The mayor's office has put out the following statement on the lawsuit:

“The lawsuit filed today is disappointing and misguided. It ignores the commitment my administration has made to address the reasonable concerns of the taxicab industry while ensuring residents and visitors to our city get the first class service they deserve,” said Mayor Gray. The Gray administration has taken various actions to address the concerns voiced by the drivers, including:
  • Instituted fuel surcharge in February and in July to help drivers with higher gas prices
  • Nominated Ron Linton, an experienced and professional administrator, as Chairman of the DC Taxicab Commission. He awaits expected Council confirmation as soon as October 6th
  • Following the Mayor’s lead, the Acting Chairman has established a transparent and open meeting process for the Commission, which is scheduled to meet on September 21 under the new process
  • Office of Boards and Commissions this week was already prepared to forward to the Council four new nominees to the DCTC Commission, two of whom are taxicab drivers
  • The Acting Chairman has proposed lifting the cap on long-distance taxi rides

In keeping with the Mayor’s promise to be inclusive and engage cab drivers, the Acting Chairman already had scheduled a meeting for this Friday with three taxicab driver associations. Unfortunately because of this lawsuit, counsel has informed the Acting Chairman the meeting must be cancelled.

“I am confident that many of the issues raised by the associations will be resolved without the need for ligation,” Mayor Gray further stated. “However, should the associations decide to pursue the lawsuit, the Office of the Attorney General will vigorously defend the lawsuit.”