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Chairman Responds to Public Inquiry

The DC Taxicab Commission received an email message in our general mailbox with several questions. So on behalf of the Commission, I felt it was more important to respond openly rather than specifically to the individual so that the general public could also benefit from the insight. It allows the public to gain a clear perspective on the processes and operations of the Commission. The responsibilities of the Chairman include being knowledgeable and cognizant of the issues and challenges that face our companies, drivers and riders.  Thus, it is a great opportunity to share several observations and opinions regarding the Washington taxicab industry. The correspondent asked a series of questions as follows:

QUESTION: Do you ever ride by taxi in Washington, DC?

ANSWER: As Chairman, my duties obligate me to often ride in our cabs as well as spend time at gas stations frequented by our drivers to speak with them about their feelings and concerns. I also observe passengers and listen to their reactions. Our local stakeholders and industry counterparts provide regular feedback. I’m well aware of the various opinions about our taxi industry.

QUESTION: Have you ever traveled to another city and taken a taxi in that jurisdiction?

ANSWER: Yes. However, the question is immaterial. What is important is fulfilling the mission of the Commission to provide safe, professional and reliable transportation services in the city of Washington.

QUESTION: If yes, when you take a taxi in another area and compare it to DC’s taxis, would you say it is better or worse?

ANSWER: Other cities have various levels of service. While it is inappropriate to make comparative judgments, it is useful to realize what can be learned from the taxi operations in other cities. We can use the conditions and circumstances in other areas to determine what can work and has worked…and what has not worked for them. Thus, we can adopt the best practices in the industry to provide the highest quality services to our passengers.

QUESTION: Have you ever been to any city in the world with worse taxi service? Please share which city.

ANSWER: All major cities have to deal with transportation problems but I will share this brief anecdote because my counterpart was advised of this story. Upon arriving at a meeting in New York City I told the head of that city’s taxi commission of my experience with the ride that included similar issues between New York and Washington: some problems with communication and the lack of familiarity with some local destinations. It is not my intention to criticize another jurisdiction, but rather to reinforce the fact that problems are universal and not isolated to one place or another.  

QUESTION: Would you agree that the taxi-riding experience by DC and metropolitan residents – to speak nothing of our city’s guests – is generally appalling?

ANSWER: While I would agree that some people have perceptions of the industry that are less than desirable, it is inaccurate to make any sweeping generalizations. Moreover, I would not characterize our industry as appalling. We are currently undertaking a significant upgrade to taxicab operations including the installation of credit card readers, monitors offering news, weather updates and current events and guidance systems. Improved technical capabilities are being instituted to allow both passengers and drivers to have the capability to make contact to receive the appropriate police and/or medical assistance. New standardized dome lighting will help to make it easier to recognize available and legal taxis.

QUESTION: What would you say are the drivers [reasons] behind the appalling taxi service in DC?

ANSWER: There are approximately 8,500 individuals licensed to drive taxis in the city. It would be unfair to label the entire group with a single description. We issue about 1,500 citations per month for infractions incurred for failing to comply with Title 31. We partner with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to make arrests for misdemeanors and felonies. We have initiated a program to eliminate poor performers who do not meet the accepted standards. However, the vast majority of drivers are honest, hard-working people trying to make a decent living to deliver a good service and we want to help them to deliver their best.

QUESTION: What changes are you recommending to improve the taxi experience for riders?

ANSWER: The installation of the Taxi Smart Meter System (TSMS) is one of the most critical upgrades facing the industry.  In addition to allowing passengers to use credit cards, TSMS and the new dome lights are expected to curtail “Failure to Haul” violations, eliminate illegal taxicabs and increase the potential for electronic reservations. The enhanced capability to monitor vehicles offers increased safety and trust to passengers. In addition to the new standardized dome lighting, there are discussions underway to consider making DC cabs even more readily identifiable by instituting a standardized color scheme for all vehicles. We are proceeding with a program to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in use.

QUESTION: What pro-consumer changes have you rejected?

ANSWER: None.

QUESTION: Are you ashamed of yourself for overseeing one of the worst performing taxi industries in the world?

ANSWER: There is no objective measurement to indicate that the taxi industry in DC is one of the worst and there is no reason to be ashamed. Since being named Chairman in August 2011, I have been fully engaged with evaluating and making efforts to improve the services of the Washington taxicab industry. I am encouraged with our progress, but I am not completely satisfied. We are striving to establish transparent procedures and processes as a means to be more informative and accountable. I am confident that we are moving in the right direction to improve public perceptions and enhance civic trust.

QUESTION: The “Performance” page on the DCTC website comes up as “Page Not Found.” Do you think this is an apt metaphor for the performance of the Commission or of the taxi industry in general?

ANSWER: Since assuming the Chairmanship, I have not been content with our web site. We are scheduled for a major overhaul before the end of 2012. It is our objective to have a site that has fresh content, is easy to use and contains timely and valuable information.

QUESTION: Who does the Commission work for…drivers or passengers?

ANSWER: The Taxicab Commission is a regulatory agency responsible for finding the appropriate balance between a fair charge to passengers and a fair return on the labor and investment of the driver. We also work to regulate and ensure that cars and drivers operate safely within the laws of the District of Columbia for the benefit of passengers and drivers. Our mission is to provide the citizens of DC and our visitors a safe, comfortable, efficient and affordable taxicab experience in well-equipped vehicles operated by highly qualified individuals who have knowledge of the District's streets, boundaries, historical highlights and tourist destinations, while adhering to a standard of high quality customer service. At the same time, the Commission is required by law to ensure a viable and economically sound industry with taxicab owners and operators who operate within a system of rules and regulations that are fair and transparent and that allow for technological advancements.