Taxi Chair and Media Make Serious Allegations Against Drivers, But Offer No Evidence

Taxi Chair and Media Make Serious Allegations Against Drivers, But Offer No Evidence

Last week, taxi chair Ron Linton made serious allegations against D.C. cabbies but failed to offer evidence to back them up.

Speaking to ABC 7, Linton said there’s been a wave of driver assaults on passengers. “What we’re seeing is an increase in [drivers] physically manhandling their fares… Striking them. Pulling them out of their cabs. One woman was pulled out by her ankles.”

ABC 7’s piece, apparently based solely on Linton’s claims, was tagged a “Crime” story. The Washington Post followed up with a piece, apparently based solely on ABC 7’s “reporting,” which ran in its blog “The Crime Scene.”

In a statement released Wednesday, The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers, which represents 3,000 independent cabbies, called Linton’s comments “irresponsible and misleading.”

In a phone conversation Tuesday, TheFightBack asked Linton for evidence backing up his allegations. He responded by saying the line of questioning amounted to “some kind of gotcha game.”

“I can’t release [their names],” explained Linton, who then said he didn’t know their names (“I’m telling you what I know”).

“[There’s been] six or seven arrests in the last several months,” Linton said. When asked to be more specific about the time period, Linton testily responded, “Three months, how about that?”

Linton first said he got the information from his taxi (hack) inspectors, from whom drivers report suffering widespread abuse. Then he said it was Metropolitan Police Department officers, working with hack inspectors, who brought these alleged crimes to his attention.

Asked if the recent spate of alleged passenger assaults amounted to a significant increase, Linton said, “We’re not keeping statistical records of that.”

Linton repeatedly told TheFightBack to call MPD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, saying, “I’m not going to do your job.”

Bill Miller, spokesman for the U.S. attorney, said he’d seen the recent media reports and would like to be helpful but “no cases [fitting that description] come readily to mind.” “It’s not to say we haven’t had any,” said Miller, who explained that his office would need more information in order to track down the cases. He suggested contacting MPD.

“We need something to narrow this search down,” said MPD Officer Tisha Grant, who asked for a location, date or report number. Without any specifics, explained Grant, “there’s no way that we can actually just go in [the computer system] and pull that up.”

Not only the content but the timing of Linton’s comments is being called into question.

The Small Business Association noted, “The Chairman’s statements appear to be timed with a series of proposed regulations that would put an impossible burden on D.C.’s independent taxicab owner/operators, including a device that tracks passengers and drivers, as well as unfair vehicle age limits and surcharge reductions.”

As part of the city’s campaign to implement what one official described as “a forceful modernization of the taxi industry,” drivers are being given a so-called fare increase. “This is part of the deal, a quid pro quo,” explained Councilmember Mary Cheh, who has oversight of the taxicab industry.

Drivers contend that the proposed fare increase won’t be of much benefit, while the reforms may force many of them out of business. (Previously, the city attempted to wipe out independent drivers with the introduction of a medallion bill, but the legislation failed.)

The so-called fare increase raises the per mile rate to $2.16 from $1.50 per mile, while completely eliminating the $1 fuel surcharge and partly elminating the extra passenger fee, among other sources of driver revenue. Since most District rides are short in distance (exact numbers are hard to come by), drivers contend that the increased fare won’t make up for the loss in revenue resulting from the elimination of fees and surcharges.

Linton told The Examiner that the so-called fare increase may go into effect by April 21. The issue is on the agenda for the commission’s April 11 meeting, which is likely to be contentious.

Even if the proposed fare increase amounts to a small gain for drivers, it still won’t come close to restoring drivers’ 30 percent loss of income that resulted from the installation of meters, which were set at the lowest rates in the country.

In a separate but related issue, passengers may soon see a $0.25 to $0.50 surcharge on all rides if legislation introduced by Cheh passes the Council. That money, however, will go directly to the taxi commission, bypassing drivers, and will be used to install devices in the backseat of all cabs similar to those found in New York City which display advertising, news and entertainment, and have proved very unpopular among passengers and drivers.

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