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Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | April 16, 2014 at 9:05 am | 1,627 views | No Comments

Rainy night on the Pike (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Arlington Has Highest Tax Burden for the Poor — Arlington County has the highest tax burden for low income people in the D.C. area, according to a new study. In response, County Board Chair Jay Fisette suggested that the higher taxes go to providing more services, like affordable housing and better public schools, compared to other jurisdictions. [WAMU]

Op-Ed: Lower The Tax Rate — Local fiscal watchdog Wayne Kubicki says that the the County Board should reduce the property tax rate by 1.5 cents by utilizing part of the $37.1 million in unspent funds left over from Fiscal Year 2014. Kubicki suggests calling the tax rate reduction a “Vihstadt Dividend.” [InsideNoVa]

National Issues Didn’t Help Dems in Local Race — Democratic County Board candidate Alan Howze and his allies tried to corner opponent John Vihstadt on issues like Medicaid and his past support of Republican candidates. But it didn’t work, and Vihstadt was elected in a virtual landslide, the first non-Democrat on the County Board in 15 years. Concludes “Our Man in Arlington” columnist Charlie Clark: “Superimposing state and national ideological issue tests on genuine local disputes won’t trump voter focus on the individual candidates’ qualifications and clarity of message.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Venture Fund Founder on Crystal City — Paul Singh, founder of the new $50 million Crystal Tech Fund, which will focus its investments on post-seed stage tech companies, talked to a reporter about why he chose to locate the fund in Crystal City. He said Crystal City is an “attractive” location for tech company founders because of Metro access and airport proximity, along with “great restaurants and great living environments.” [Washington Post]

National Airport Cab Fares May Rise – The cost of taking a cab from Reagan National Airport may rise starting in September. The Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is considering raising the dispatch fee for cabs picking up passengers from $2.50 to $3 per trip. The board is also considering a requirement that all cabs accept credit cards. [InsideNoVa]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

Crime Report: Airbags Stolen in Fairlington

by ARLnow.com | April 10, 2014 at 5:30 pm | 1,638 views | No Comments

Thieves stole the airbags from a number of cars parked in Fairlington early Tuesday morning.

Victims told NBC 4 that they woke up to find their car hoods open and their airbags missing. From this week’s Arlington County crime report:

GRAND LARCENY FROM AUTO (series), 140408013, 3000 block of S. Columbus Street. On April 8 at 5:46am, it was reported that multiple vehicles in the Fairlington area were broken into by an unknown subject(s) and airbags were stolen. There is no suspect(s) description and the investigation is ongoing.

Also on Tuesday, a cab driver was allegedly robbed at gunpoint in the Rosslyn area.

ROBBERY, 140408063, 1800 block of N. Clarendon Boulevard. On April 8 at 7:06pm, a taxi cab driver reported he was robbed at gunpoint by a passenger. The suspect later identified as Sami Troy Traboulsi, 28, of Alexandria, VA was taken into custody and charged with robbery.

The rest of the crime report, after the jump. All named suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty.

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Free Taxis Available Every Night During the Holidays

by Ethan Rothstein | December 12, 2013 at 11:30 am | 1,995 views | No Comments

2013 Holiday SoberRide posterLate night partiers will be able to get a free taxi ride home from Friday night until New Year’s Day.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program is offering its SoberRide program starting on Dec. 13 at 10:00 p.m. Every night until New Year’s Day, from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., D.C.-area residents can call 1-800-200-TAXI (1-800-200-8294) for a cab ride that’s free up to a $30 fare. AT&T users can also dial #WRAP to call for a taxi.

“Last December, nearly 2,000 (1,927) Greater Washington residents did the right thing and availed themselves of this lifesaving service rather than possibly driving home impaired,” WRAP President Kurt Gregory Erickson said in a press release. “For SoberRide’s hours of operation during just last New Year’s Eve, such ridership (387) translated into the removal of a would-be drunk driver from our shared roadways every 74 seconds.”

Customers must be 21 or older “who otherwise may have attempted to drive home after drinking” to call SoberRide, according to WRAP.

Image courtesy of WRAP

Taxi Drives Into Ballston Light Pole

by Ethan Rothstein | October 18, 2013 at 11:45 am | 2,607 views | No Comments

A Blue Top Cab driver drove his taxi into a light pole this morning (Friday) in Ballston.

The driver struck the concrete pole at about 10:45 a.m. on Fairfax Drive at the intersection with N. Quincy Street. The pole broke in half and shattered onto the street.

There were no passengers in the car, according to police, and the driver was up and talking to the responding officers. The traffic signal at the intersection was still operational and traffic wasn’t impeded.

Taxi Drivers Occupy County Board Office in Protest

by Ethan Rothstein | October 11, 2013 at 2:35 pm | 2,189 views | No Comments

Almost 100 taxi drivers crowded into the office of the Arlington County Board Friday morning, demanding a meeting with Board Chairman Walter Tejada to protest working conditions in Arlington.

The crowd of drivers were many of the same who protested in Clarendon last month against the same issue: the ordinance that regulates taxi operating permits, which the protesting drivers feel is written in the interest of the taxi companies’ owners, not the drivers.

The Arlington United Taxi Operators and Tenants and Workers United again organized the protest. Tejada was not in the office Friday morning, but the drivers were able to get a brief audience with Board member Mary Hynes and speak to Tejada on speakerphone, setting up a meeting for Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 3:00 p.m.

The demonstration was organized quickly after Yellow Cab Co. driver Abdellah Ouazzani said he was fired on Wednesday for speaking out against the cab companies. Ouazzani claims that a Yellow Cab manager struck him on the shoulder several times while demanding that he either sell back his taxi to the company or be fired.

“It went from peaceful protests and turned violent,” Ouazzani said. He filed a complaint with the police, who are investigating the incident, but Ouazzani did not have any bruises as a result of the alleged confrontation, we’re told. An official with Red Top Cab, which owns Yellow Cab Co., could not be reached for comment.

Acting Deputy County Manager Jay Farr asked the drivers to leave the office and move the protest to the County Board room, and then called the police. The drivers refused to relocate, but police remained next door in the County Manager’s office, and did not engage with the protesters.

“We’re not trying to have a confrontation,” Farr said. “We want to give them a chance to protest, but we have to conduct government business.”

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Taxi Drivers Protest Working Conditions in Arlington

by Ethan Rothstein | September 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm | 3,517 views | No Comments

Dozens of taxi drivers converged on Clarendon this afternoon, deliberately disrupting traffic to protest what they claim are poor working conditions in Arlington.

The cab drivers drove slowly around the Clarendon Metro station in protest of their employers and Arlington County. Organized by the cab drivers union Arlington United Taxi Operators, they’re lobbying for a public hearing before the County Board.

Red Top CabsThe drivers and the union want to change the ordinance that regulates taxi operating permits, which the protesting drivers feel is written in the interest of the taxi companies’ owners, not the drivers.

“The companies basically treat us like slaves,” said Abdellah Ouazzani, a cab driver who declined to state which company he drives for out of fear of losing his job. “They abuse us and they can fire us any time they want.”

In recent years, Red Top Cab and Yellow Cab Company, owned by the same parent company, have raised the dues drivers pay from $145 to $175 to $205 a week, Red Top Cab Vice President Charlie King confirmed. The most recent increase, King said, was coupled with a reduction in credit card fees drivers pay when customers charge their rides, estimated at $30 a week.

Drivers say the steeper fees cut into the pay they end up taking home at the end of the week, leaving “poverty-level earnings,” but companies argue that it’s fair given that the fees often cover the cost of the cabs themselves and the dispatch services that connects drivers with customers.

“Yellow Cab was operating at a loss at $145 a week,” King said. As for the perceived unfair treatment of its drivers, King said, “that’s clearly not the case. We don’t have a record of needlessly terminating cab drivers. We have a great deal of respect for our drivers.”

The Arlington County Board reviews the taxicab ordinance every two years, and when the board took up the issue last year, the taxi union demonstrated many of the same concerns and accused the County Board of racism.

The union wants the county to distribute permits to individual drivers, while the code states the nearly 800 permits in circulation are to be allocated to companies. Red Top Cab and Yellow Cab Co. combine to hold 455 operating permits, King said. Blue Top Cab holds about 170.

The union, along with Tenants and Workers United and Virginia New Majority, a progressive advocacy group, are planning future “disruptions” in other parts of Arlington, including in Courthouse, Pentagon City and Shirlington.

“We want to disrupt other areas so they can be made aware,” said Deshundra Jefferson, spokeswoman for Virginia New Majority, said. “Taxicabs are like sweatshops on wheels, and people don’t even know that the drivers are relying on Medicaid and food stamps.”

Video courtesy Virginia New Majority

Arlington’s Envirocab Service to Be Sold

by ARLnow.com | May 17, 2013 at 11:45 am | 991 views | No Comments

EnvirocabArlington’s Envirocab service is being sold to a large transportation conglomerate.

Owners Hans Hess and Cord Thomas, Hess’ nephew, are planning to sell the 50-cab fleet to Veolia Transportation, which operates more than 2,400 taxicabs around the country. Among Veolia’s local holdings are the SuperShuttle airport transportation service and a third of the Washington Flyer cab fleet.  Hess also owns the Ballston-based Elevation Burger restaurant chain.

The Arlington County Board must first approve the ownership transfer, per a condition of Envirocab’s taxi licenses. County staff is recommending that the Board approve the sale at its meeting on Tuesday.

The sale has been in the works since at least February. In March, Veolia’s SuperTaxi subsidiary, which will operate Envirocab, told county staff that it plans to offer the following benefits for Envirocab employees and the cab-riding public:

  • “SuperTaxi will maintain operations and key personnel as well as stand dues at current levels.”
  • “SuperTaxi will provide consumers with new smartphone apps to reserve a taxicab along with a 24 hour, 7 days per week call center with customer-service trained staff.”
  • “SuperTaxi will hold regular meetings with drivers to improve service and safety and provide driver award programs.”
  • “SuperTaxi will use incentives to provide service during peak demand periods.”
  • “SuperTaxi will add at least one wheelchair-accessible taxicab to the fleet (while still keeping its fleet size at 50 taxicabs as authorized under the existing certificate issued to Envirocab).”

Earlier this month the Arlington Transportation Commission unanimously voted to support the ownership transfer. In a report, county staff concluded that the sale “will not adversely affect the health, safety and welfare of the traveling public nor will it adversely affect the Arlington County taxicab industry.”

In December, the County Board denied Envirocab’s request for additional taxi licenses, despite a recommendation from County Manager Barbara Donnellan that the company receive 10 additional licenses.

New Taxicab Comes to Arlington

by ARLnow.com | April 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm | 2,375 views | 19 Comments

Red Top's 2013 Ford Fusion taxicabMany police departments and taxi companies are still trying to find a suitable replacement for the venerable but discontinued Ford Crown Victoria , but Arlington’s Red Top Cab already chosen its Crown Vic successor: the 2013 Ford Fusion.

Far from being a generic, workhorse fleet vehicle, the 2013 Fusion is actually a stylish car that’s setting sales records. Red Top, which has 58 older Fusion models in its fleet, says the newly-redesigned Fusion (starting MSRP: $21,900) is ideal for taxi use.

“Our 2013 Ford Fusions use aerodynamic styling and advanced engineering to provide exceptional gas mileage and a reduced carbon footprint without sacrificing comfort or safety,” the company said in its March newsletter. “Comfortable seating for five, a surprising commodious trunk, with rear seats that can fold down to accommodate items like skis, make for a very versatile taxicab.”

Red Top marketing director Von Pelot says the company has 20 new Fusions in its fleet of 350 cabs, and plans to add 30 more this year.

“We expect the Fusion to be our primary replacement vehicle for the Red Top fleet at this time,” Pelot said. He said that familiarity with Ford, an economical price, and safety were also factors when choosing a new fleet vehicle.

“The design of the 2013 also virtually eliminates ‘blind spots’ with windows strategically placed to provide almost 360 degrees of visibility,” he said. “Also, the 2013 Ford Fusion earned the highest five-star safety rating in federal crash tests, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

The car has been well-received by both taxi passengers and drivers.

“As a taxicab company, we have two sets of customers, our drivers — our ‘front seat customers’ — and our passengers,” he said. “We are receiving very positive reviews from the drivers who love the handling, lack of blind spots, fuel economy and really cool look of the 2013 Fusion. Our passengers like the comfort, and trunk size (those who use us for trips to the airport or shopping).”

Pelot said he’s not aware of any other local cab companies that are using the 2013 Fusion. Ford has not responded to a request for comment.

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | March 15, 2013 at 8:50 am | 651 views | 25 Comments

Cherry blossoms on 15th Street S. in Pentagon City on 3/14/13

Free Taxi Rides on St. Paddy’s Day — As part of the SoberRide program, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program will be offering free taxi rides home on Sunday (St. Patrick’s Day) from 4:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. In order to get your fare (up to $30) comped, you must call 1-800-200-TAXI to book the cab. [Washington Regional Alcohol Program]

St. Patrick’s Day in Shirlington — Restaurants and stores in Shirlington are offering a number of specials food, drink and product this weekend in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. [Shirlington Village Blog Spot]

Arlington Touts Traffic Management — Despite a surge in population and employment in Arlington County since the 1970s, there has not been a corresponding significant increase in traffic levels on major county streets. According to a new blog post from the county’s Mobility Lab, Arlington County Commuter Services deserves some of the credit for that. The bureau — which operates Walk Arlington, Bike Arlington, and the Car Free Diet marketing campaign, among other “Transportation Demand Management” functions — says it kept 45,000 cars off county streets every work day in 2012. [Mobility Lab]

ACPD Officers to Participate in Bike Trek — Three Arlington County police officers will participate in the annual “Road to Hope” Law Enforcement United bicycle trek from Chesapeake, Virginia to Washington, D.C. The three day, 250-mile ride is organized “to honor the service and sacrifice of their law enforcement colleagues who have died in the line of duty” and to provide support for two law enforcement charities. [Arlington County Police Department]

Morning Notes

by Katie Pyzyk | February 27, 2013 at 8:55 am | 2,215 views | 53 Comments

Signs of spring

Rabbit Closing — Just days after telling ARLnow.com he had reduced hours to lunch only, the owner of Rabbit Salad and Grill (3035 Clarendon Blvd) in Clarendon has apparently decided to completely call it quits. The restaurant will close on Friday to make way for Fat Shorty’s, a beer and sausage restaurant. The new restaurant is expected to open in early April. [Washingtonian]

Carlee Becomes Charlotte City Manager — Former Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee has taken a new job as the city manager of Charlotte, NC. Carlee had worked for Arlington County for 29 years, but left in 2009 for a job with the International City/County Management Association. Carlee’s new salary is reported to be $290,000 per year, a 15 percent increase over his predecessor’s salary. [Charlotte Observer]

Chuck Todd to Give Marymount Commencement Address — Chuck Todd, Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News, will give Marymount University’s commencement address this spring. He’ll speak at D.A.R. Constitution Hall on May 19, the same day the University will award Todd the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his career in journalism.

Concern Over Unlicensed Cabs — County Board members voiced concerns about reports of unlicensed taxis operating in Arlington. They asked county staff to investigate the issue and report back. The Board oversees the county’s taxi business by allotting a fixed number of operating certificates and regulating fares. [Sun Gazette]

Sun Gazette Office Moving — Today is moving day for The Sun Gazette. The paper’s office is being relocated from Springfield to 6704 Old McLean Road in McLean. The move is intended to put advertising and newsroom offices in the heart of the paper’s coverage territory, which stretches from Arlington west to Great Falls and then south to Vienna and Oakton. [Sun Gazette]

Crime Report: Cab Driver Punched

by ARLnow.com | February 14, 2013 at 9:55 am | 2,179 views | 28 Comments

An intoxicated man tried to rob a cab driver, then punched him in the face, according to this week’s Arlington County crime report.

Police say the incident started as Arlington resident Christopher Arrington, 31, was providing turn-by-turn directions to the cab driver. The driver demanded to know a specific address, at which time the men started fighting. According to police, Arrington tried to grab cash the driver had placed in a cup holder. A struggle ensued and police say Arrington punched the driver in the face.

He was arrested at the scene, on the 3100 block of Columbia Pike, according to the crime report.

ROBBERY, 02/10/13, 3100 block of S. Columbia Pike. At 2:07 am on February 10, a subject attempted to rob a cab driver and assaulted the driver by punching him in the face. Police arrived on scene and took the subject into custody. Christopher Arrington, 31, of Arlington, VA, was arrested and charged with robbery. He was held without bond.

The rest of the crime report, after the jump.

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Crime Report: Taxis Stolen

by ARLnow.com | January 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm | 1,690 views | 21 Comments

Yellow taxi cab in Pentagon CityHard-driven, high-mileage taxicabs might not seem like a very attractive target for car thieves, but in the past week three have been stolen from the same block of Columbia Pike.

Arlington County auto crimes detectives are “actively engaged in” an investigation into the thefts, said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck, who couldn’t recall any other taxi thefts in Arlington in the past year. The cabs all had D.C. tags and ranged in model year from 1998 to 2004.

From the stolen vehicle portion of this week’s crime report:

01/23/13, DC 01232H, 2004 Ford Crown Victoria (Taxi), White/Yellow, 5500 block of S. Columbia Pike
01/23/13, DC H95014, 2002 Ford Crown Victoria (Taxi), Blue, 5500 block of S. Columbia Pike
01/28/13, DC H87744, 1998 Ford Crown Victoria (Taxi), Blue and Gray, 5500 block of S. Columbia Pike

Also in this week’s crime report, a woman was grabbed from behind while walking home from the Ballston Metro station. Her purse was stolen but she was otherwise physically uninjured.

ROBBERY, 01/24/13, 4400 block of N. 4th Street. At 11:53 pm on January 23, as a female victim was walking home from the Ballston Metro station alone, she was approached from behind by a male subject who placed his hand over her face and grabbed her purse. The subject fled the scene on foot and was not located. He is described as a black male, approximately 5’7” tall and 160 lbs. He was wearing a black wool coat, dark jeans, knit hat, light colored scarf and dark gloves at the time of the incident.

The rest of the crime report, after the jump.

File photo

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Board Nixes All-Electric Cab Fleet

by Katie Pyzyk | December 11, 2012 at 10:10 am | 3,523 views | 82 Comments

(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) Following months of discussion and pushing back a final vote, the County Board has decided not to approve permits for an all-electric fleet of cabs.

Arlington start-up EV Taxicabs had requested permits for 40 cabs, for which County Manager Barbara Donnellan gave a stamp of approval in October.

The topic has garnered much discussion over the past few months, and was held over from last month’s Board meeting to allow for more time to examine the details.

One of the sticking points is Arlington’s lack of infrastructure to support electric cars, namely charging stations. EV had promised to install charging stations throughout the county that residents would be able to use as well.

“There is no question that we do not have the infrastructure,” said Board member Jay Fisette. “Again, part of this application’s strengths was that in fact, after two years we would, without any public investment.”

Board member Chris Zimmerman said although the charging stations are part of the plan, the electric car technology is too new and there’s not enough evidence to prove it can be a long term option.

“This is a very interesting technology and very well may be the wave of the future. I don’t think we, at this point, know exactly how that technology is going to shake out,” said Zimmerman. “I feel like we’re not quite ready for this yet.”

Fisette pointed out that there were many skeptics when EnviroCab first proposed launching a hybrid fleet, but the company’s idea has since transformed the community.

“We’re out in front of the pack in most instances, this would put us further out,” Fisette said. “This is exactly the kind of  innovation, the kind of opportunity that is needed for us to meet in the community energy plan.”

Board Chair Mary Hynes agreed that the electric fleet would be in line with the county’s long term energy plan, but feels it’s currently not a viable option.

“We’re at the infancy stages of this, we don’t yet have our county-wide strategy related to chargers,” Hynes said. “And I recognize that this proposer would jump start this a little bit, but I think we really do need to have our strategy in place.”

The board members encouraged EV to return during the next cab certificate allocation, in two years, to put in another request.

“I would hope that two years from now they’ll be back and we will have our game plan together and we’ll be in a position to allow this sort of a launch,” Hynes said.

Board members Libby Garvey and Jay Fisette voted in favor of EV Taxicab’s request, but Chris Zimmerman, Walter Tejada and Board Chair Mary Hynes voted no.

Despite going against Donnellan’s recommendation to approve the EV permits, the Board did side with Donnellan’s suggestion to grant additional cab permits. It’s the first time in four years the county suggested increasing the number of taxis on the road, during the certificate allocation process which takes place every two years. Prior to the increase, seven companies owned 765 licensed cabs.

Wheelchair accessible taxis make up a significant portion of the newly granted permits. Red Top Cab and Blue Top Cab companies each received five such permits. Friendly Cab Co. received 12 permits and will also launch a dispatch service. The total of 22 granted taxi certificates is well below the 65 suggested by Donnellan.

The Board sided with the county Transportation Commission in denying permits for EV Taxicab, but against the commission’s recommendation to divvy up some of the permits proposed for the company to Arlington-based EnviroCab.

Before her vote, Hynes also dealt a blow to taxi drivers hoping to obtain individual cab operating certificates. Hynes said that in the future, the Board is unlikely to approve new cab permits for companies that do not plan to utilize dispatch service.

SoberRide to Offer Free Cab Rides Throughout the Holidays

by ARLnow.com | December 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm | 4,501 views | 16 Comments

The regional SoberRide program will be offering free cab rides throughout the holidays.

From Friday, Dec. 14 to Tuesday, Jan. 1, SoberRide will be providing no-cost cab rides to those who call 1-800-200-TAXI from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Last December, more than 2,000 D.C. area residents used SoberRide in December, according to the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP).

In addition to the SoberRide program, WRAP and Red Top Cab recently unveiled a half-taxi, half-police cruiser that has been parked in Clarendon in an effort to deter drunk driving.

From a WRAP press release:

Combating that time of year classified by U.S. Government officials as one of the deadliest times on America’s roadways due to an increase in drunk driving, a local nonprofit organization announced today that free cab rides will be offered to would-be drunk drivers throughout Arlington County, Virginia during the winter holidays.

Offered by the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), the annual Holiday SoberRide program will operate between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am each evening between Friday, December 14, 2012 and Tuesday, January 1, 2013 as a way to keep local roads safe from impaired drivers during this traditionally high-risk, holiday period.

During the evening hours, between December 14th and January 1st, Washington-metropolitan area residents celebrating with alcohol may call the toll-free SoberRide phone number 1–800–200–TAXI and be afforded a no-cost (up to $ 30 fare), safe way home. (AT&T wireless users can dial #WRAP for the same service.)

“Last December, over 2,000 (2,032) Greater Washington residents did the right thing and availed themselves of this lifesaving service rather than possibly driving home impaired,” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, WRAP’s President. “For SoberRide’s hours of operation during just last New Year’s Eve, such ridership (396) translated into the removal of a would-be drunk driver from our shared roadways every 72-seconds.”

SoberRide is offered in the: District of Columbia; throughout the Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s; and throughout the Northern Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, (eastern) Loudoun and Prince William. In these areas, local taxicab companies will be providing this no-cost service to local residents age 21 and older who otherwise may have attempted to drive home after drinking.

Since 1993, WRAP’s SoberRide program has provided 55,851 free cab rides home to would-be drunk drivers in the Greater Washington area.

Sponsors of the 2012 Holiday SoberRide campaign include: Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, Diageo, GEICO, Giant, MillersCoors, Red Top Cab, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, Volkswagen Group of America and the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association.

Participating taxicab companies include: Alexandria Yellow Cab; Barwood; Fairfax Yellow Cab; Loudoun Yellow Cab; Manassas Cab Company; Red Top Cab; Silver Cab of Prince George’s County; Yellow Cab of D.C.; and Yellow Cab of Prince William County.

Taxi Drivers Accuse County of Racism

by Katie Pyzyk | November 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm | 6,012 views | 133 Comments

(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) Disgruntled Arlington cab drivers staged a protest on Monday (November 26), ahead of the County Board’s expected Tuesday vote on granting more taxi certificates. The drivers are accusing the county of racism.

Members of Arlington United Taxi Operators (AUTO) and Tenants and Workers United (TWU) took part in the protest, which was staged to highlight claims of unfair labor practices by Arlington cab companies and to show that drivers’ human rights had been violated based on their national origin.

ARLnow.com requested details regarding examples of human rights violations, but did not receive information about specific incidents. Instead, a TWU representative said the basics included “ad hoc firings, arbitrary changing of working conditions, and the fact that drivers are being bound to a single company.”

“Nearly every single cab driver is an immigrant in Arlington, most are from Africa,” added Wesley Aten, Interim Executive Director for Tenants and Workers United.

AUTO and TWU also issued a press release yesterday stating the intent of several drivers to speak out at last night’s County Board meeting. The release said, “It is a racist system that looks the other way as long as white customers and a white monopoly company benefit.”

The groups provided what they call “reasonable and fair suggested adjustments” to the county’s taxi code. In a joint memo to the Board members, AUTO and TWU wrote the following:

“It is not in the public’s best interest to expand the reach of an already dysfunctional taxicab system that makes cabdrivers part of the working poor… Arlington County has created a taxicab system which — among many other important flaws — forces many cabdrivers to work as many as 13 hours a day, 7 days a week just to make livable earnings because some cab companies use mandatory operating fees to take as much as $14,000 of each driver’s annual earnings for themselves.

The irony in all of this is that a work week that commonly exceeds 60 hours produces exhausted cabdrivers. In turn, tired drivers decrease rider safety.

Yet, despite these facts, under your direction the Board will not let cabdrivers and riders have a public conversation or debate over the existing structure of the industry. Your choice to silence the people on this very important issue is not in line with ‘the Arlington way’ and we are deeply disappointed that you have chosen to protect a system that forces nearly 800 cabdrivers to work for poverty-level earnings.”

They assert that County Board Chair Mary Hynes refused to adequately review their proposed amendments to the taxi code and would not hold a public hearing on practices within the taxi industry. Hynes refuted the claim at Tuesday’s Board meeting, saying the conversation has not ended.

“We are not willing to change the ordinance in the way in which you suggested we do it,” Hynes said. “While I absolutely agree we have not resolved the issues that you raise about how many hours people drive or the impacts of that, or any of that, nor do I think we should think those are off the table.”

Hynes said she met with the group of concerned drivers at least three times between April and October. She said other Board members also met with the drivers, indicating the drivers’ statements about not having access to Board members was inaccurate.

“There was no inability to talk to Board members, all of that happened,” Hynes said.

Hynes further elaborated in a written statement:

“Since AUTO submitted its proposed changes in July 2012 to the County’s taxi cab ordinance, County Board Members and County staff have held numerous meetings with AUTO leaders. After giving the proposal serious consideration, the County Board ultimately decided against a rewrite of the taxi ordinance. Although a vote to not move forward is not required, I decided to have the County Board discuss this decision in public and take a public vote, which we did in October. This request for ordinance changes is not unique. Every year, the County Board receives 10-20 requests from individuals and groups seeking various County ordinance changes. Moving forward on any one of these requests always requires three or more members’ support for the potential change.”

In addition to addressing the proposed changes to the county taxi code, the drivers’ groups requested that Board members deny a plan to allow 55 additional taxis to operate in Arlington, as recommended by county staff. Of particular discussion during Tuesday’s meeting was whether or not to approve certificates for Arlington-based start-up EV Taxicabs.

Last month, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommended that EV receive permits to operate 40 cabs, which would be all-electric and include free WiFi and iPads for passenger use.

As the taxi discussion stretched in excess of two hours and the meeting inched toward 2:00 a.m., Board members decided to carry over the discussion and vote on taxi related items at the December meeting.

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