By Addis Gebreselassi and Nessibu Bezabeh
Clashes on the streets of Paris. A workers’ strike in Milan. A ban in Brussels. Court scrutiny in Berlin and other cities. City councils grappling with the issue across the United States. We have read about these incidents in which taxi drivers have led protests against so-called private-sedan services such as UberX, Lyft and Sidecar. Increasingly, taxi drivers are taking a stand against these services, which use mobile apps to connect drivers and passengers.
On June 25, it was our turn in our nation’s capital. In a show of strength and unity, more than 1,000 D.C. taxi drivers held a rally and caravan for fairness.
We have spent tens of thousands of dollars on our own vehicles and city-mandated upgrades (including fare meters, credit card machines, dome lights and exterior painting), and we have followed city rules and regulations enforced by the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
Let us be clear: We are not against the new technology these services employ. Instead, we are against these services not having to follow the same rules and regulations that we do. These regulations did not happen by accident; they have been implemented over the years to protect the riding public while providing drivers a chance to make a modest income by working long hours.
App-based transportation may sound cool, but it is creating a network of low-paid, part-time workers. Do we want to see the taxi industry transformed this way? Driving taxis is our livelihood. As difficult as it is, it enables us to raise families, buy homes and provide a hopeful future for our children.
The D.C. Council, in its zeal to welcome these private-sedan services, has delayed until the fall a vote on a bill that would allow them to operate with very little oversight. The D.C. Taxi Operators Association thinks this is unfair and is working with supporters on amending the bill. The sedan companies have very deep pockets and are using their cash to lobby for the dismantling of regulations, which would serve their interests but threatens thousands of taxi drivers’ jobs.
Taxi drivers support rules proposed by the D.C. Taxicab Commission that are much fairer to those of us who have invested greatly in our vehicles and who have followed the rules and regulations for so long.
This is a matter of fairness for the more than 6,000 taxi drivers in the District. Every hour of every day, these private-sedan services are taking our work while operating illegally in the city. It is time people became more aware of this issue, which is why we staged the June 25 rally and caravan.
The council seems to think deregulation is the answer. It is not. Other cities and the Commonwealth of Virginia have taken steps to ban these new services or require that they follow rules similar to those that taxis follow. We want this to happen here. We demand a level playing field. Our patience is growing thin with the council’s push for deregulation in the guise of “competition.”
We’re part of an ever-growing movement to challenge this, and we are watching the protests carefully.
The writers are members of the leadership council of the Washington D.C. Taxi Operators Association.