U.S. Park Police and Federal Prosecutors Target Cab Driver Trying to Get Fares Near Arlington National Cemetery

by Sean Riley


Washington Post

Yahia H. Fayed has been trying to piece together a life as an independent cabdriver in the Washington area, although it hasn’t been easy. The 35-year-old Kuwaiti-born immigrant has the most luck attracting passengers on a stretch of road leading into Arlington National Cemetery. The problem: The U.S. Park Police doesn’t permit him or any other cabdriver to hang around and wait for passengers.

But Fayed, a father of four who lives in Woodbridge, Va., has been persistent, and his numerous tickets on Memorial Avenue outside the cemetery have led to a prolonged battle in federal court involving multiple judges and the parsings of words such as “idling” and “standing.”

What Fayed simply calls “standing” in his marked gray taxi with the ignition turned on is deplored by the U.S. Park Police and federal prosecutors as something far more nefarious: “parking.” In the government’s view, Fayed was “parking” alongside green-and-white signs fixed to lampposts that read “Reserved Parking NPS Permit Required.” To catch him in the act, a Park Police officer conducted a stakeout by hiding behind some bushes on Memorial Avenue.

“This is crazy stuff, to stay behind bushes and give you a parking ticket?” Fayed said. “Look at all the people who drive 50 miles an hour on Memorial Avenue. Some people are taking pictures of the Lincoln Memorial in the middle of the street. That is far more dangerous.”

On Jan. 22, Fayed is scheduled to appeal three misdemeanor convictions in U.S. District Court in Alexandria for violating 36 CFR 4.12: “failure to comply with the directions of a traffic control device,” with “device” being the federal government term of art for “sign.” The charges stem from one stop in May and a second and third stop in early and mid-September. Fayed faces fines of $755 and a one-year ban from operating a car on Memorial Avenue.

Over the past two years, Fayed estimates he has actually been ticketed about 15 times on Memorial Avenue for violating the parking-sign law while trying to lure passengers. He said he has always paid his fines — a total of about $1,000 — figuring the fees were the costs of trying to do business as an independent taxi driver who has been unable to find employment with a major cab service. Although Fayed has a state taxi license, he does not possess an Arlington County “certificate of public convenience and necessity” or a public vehicle driver’s license — documents legally required to pick up passengers anywhere in Arlington, even at the federally owned Arlington National Cemetery.

Fayed said he has tried becoming a driver with Uber and with other major taxi companies that dole out the county-mandated certificates. But he keeps getting rejected, he said, because of a reckless driving charge he said he got several years ago in Arlington.

When Fayed got pulled over twice in September for idling next to the cemetery’s green “reserved parking” signs, Park Police also charged him with not carrying the county’s legally required taxi documentation. But Fayed’s public defender argued in federal court in December that Arlington’s taxi regulations are discriminatory and violate the Constitution’s commerce clause by arbitrarily limiting the number of certificates that can be given out. So, prosecutors dismissed those charges to focus on Fayed’s parking-sign convictions — and whether idling constitutes parking.

Todd Richman, Fayed’s public defender, declined to comment.

Chandana Kolavala, a prosecutor handling the case, declined to comment and referred questions to a spokesman. Messages left last week with the U.S. attorney’s press office, just before the New Year’s holiday, went unreturned.

When Fayed got pulled over on Sept. 19, Park Police officer Alejandro Amaya witnessed Fayed idling on Memorial Avenue for about eight minutes before he picked up a pair of passengers coming out of the cemetery.

Fayed said he didn’t see the Park Police officer hiding.

“Officer Amaya had exited his vehicle and concealed himself behind some bushes to conduct enforcement of parking and taxi regulations,” Richman wrote in court papers filed recently.

After Amaya pulled Fayed over, the officer advised his new passengers to exit the cab, according to court papers.

Amaya was not available for an interview, according to Sgt. Anna Rose, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service.

(Prosecutors said in court papers that they dispute Fayed’s characterization that Amaya had set up a “stakeout.”)

Rose said that Amaya “hid in the bushes to make the case” and that Fayed had been given numerous verbal warnings and tickets before authorities decided to require court appearances that resulted in misdemeanor convictions and bans from Memorial Avenue.

Rose said the street’s green “reserved parking” signs clearly mean no one can pull over for several minutes and wait to pick people up. That applies to taxi drivers such as Fayed who consider what they do “standing” and to anyone else waiting to pick up friends or relatives.

“It’s a permit-only parking area. You just don’t belong there,” she said. “You’re not supposed to stand or park. They’re all the same.”

To make things even more crystal clear, new signs were recently installed on Memorial Avenue’s lampposts. The white signs say in red letters: “NO PARKING OR STANDING.”