Cab Drivers Sue Commission
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 02:10
Five taxicab drivers are suing the District Government of D.C. in a class action lawsuit in response to the city’s decision to mandate credit card readers and a new standardized rooftop informational dome light for all cabs.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 9 by lawyer Billy Ponds, who is representing drivers Choudhary Azam, Tariq Mahmood, Waleed Mohammed, Ahmed Djebbour and Mohammed Akram, seeking an exemption from the regulations for a class of as many as 2,000 drivers.
The lawsuit alleges that the D.C. Taxicab Commission is violating the constitutional rights of drivers and passengers through the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Taxicab drivers were required to have installed the Modern Taximeter System, which includes driver identification, GPS tracking and a credit card reader, and dome lights by Oct. 1, after which point non-complying taxicabs would be impounded and fined. This was the third extension granted to taxicab drivers, 120 days after the original June 1 deadline.
The plaintiffs, however, argue that the problem with the MTS is not the time frame or the deadline, but rather the policy itself.
First, the lawsuit claims that the new dome lights are a form of age and disability discrimination. Under the previous system, the lights had the option of showing “Taxi” or “Call 911,” and a button within the cab would make the “Call 911” sign flash when the driver was in distress, medically or otherwise, alerting passerby to call emergency services. The new lights, however, can only be operated by a device that is located on the dome light on the roof of the vehicle and does not include a “Call 911” sign.
“The fact that you have to turn it on and off outside — that’s not even safe,” Bereket Araia, a D.C. taxicab driver who has worked in D.C. for four years, told WTOP.
There is an alternative dome light that can be operated from within the taxicab, but the lawsuit claims that it is much more expensive.
“The new dome light requirement presents a cost prohibitive imposition upon the taxicab drivers with a disability and presents an employment obstacle because of the higher cost of the proper equipment to accommodate their disability,” the lawsuit reads.
In addition, the plaintiffs claim that the dome light would make operations difficult for all drivers over 40 years of age. All plaintiffs are older than 40.
Although DCTC spokesperson Neville Waters declined to comment on the lawsuit to The Hoya, he told Washingtonian magazine that the new dome lights are connected to the MTS, which can send emergency alerts directly to the D.C. Office of Unified Communications.
The lawsuit also finds fault with the MTS’ GPS tracking system, which collects trip data for all rides on a smart chip. According to the lawsuit, the smart chip reveals the identity of passengers that pay by credit card or debit card, as well as their pick-up and drop-off locations, which it claims is an unreasonable encroachment of the Fourth Amendment’s definition of the natural right of privacy. The MTS will also have real-time tracking of the taxi’s location at any time.
Another complaint is that, in addition to any charges from the payment service providers themselves, the drivers must pay an additional 25 cent surcharge to DCTC for each cash or credit card transaction, which the lawsuit labels a “draconian measure.” If the driver does not pay this surcharge within a designated period of time, DCTC will automatically deduct the amount due from the driver’s account. If the account has insufficient funds, DCTC will turn off the driver’s meter, preventing him from picking up any passengers.
“If I make a mistake and press this button [to start a fare], I’m paying for a fare I didn’t collect,” Araia told WTOP.
The lawsuit claims that no privately or publicly traded businesses in Washington, D.C., are subject to this type of automatic payment to a D.C. agency. In addition, no other D.C. agencies automatically download all financial transaction records from any businesses in the area. The plaintiffs say these regulations are a violation of the Equal Protection Clause under the Fifth Amendment.
This lawsuit is the latest step in an ongoing battle between taxicab drivers and the DCTC regarding the MTS, which was a large step in the DCTC’s effort to modernize the District’s taxicabs.
According to the Associated Press, Mayor Vincent Gray deemed the lawsuit “disappointing and misguided.”
The lawsuit’s hearing was originally scheduled for today, but with the federal government’s recent shutdown, it has been delayed.
Ponds, the lawyer on the case, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.