D.C proposes taxi licensing program

Three D.C. councilmembers are working to limit the number of taxicabs allowed to operate in D.C., pushing for drivers to purchase a license in order to work in the District.

The bill, sponsored by Councilmembers Marion Barry, Harry Thomas, Jr., and Michael Brown, would establish a medallion system requiring cab companies and drivers to purchase a medallion, a special license, to operate in D.C.

“I feel the bill is a needed mechanism to conduct a comprehensive review of our taxis, the drivers and the [D.C. Taxicab Commission] as a whole,” Brown said. “Frankly, the current structure needs an overhaul.”

Brown, who had brief oversight of D.C.’s Taxicab Commission, said he was “astounded” to learn that about 92 percent of D.C. taxi drivers aren’t District residents. He said the bill could provide a “greater opportunity for District residents to become drivers.”

In total, 4,000 medallions may be sold – about half the amount of the current number of taxis – with 150 set aside specifically for D.C. residents, according to the bill. Different “classes” could be purchased from $250 to $5,000 for individual drivers, and $500 to $10,000 for cab companies. The classes are determined by the type of car driven and the area in which it would drive. Most drivers and companies will have to buy multiple classes to cover the areas where they drive. Brown declined to say how much revenue the legislation could bring to the city, but a recent report from local radio station WTOP said it could be between $200 million and $400 million.

“While this policy system should not be based on revenue, I feel the cost of the medallion system will be a boost to the finances of city government through its initial implementation and through the long run by employing more District taxpayers,” Brown said.

Thomas Smith, who operates a fleet of about 150 taxis in D.C., said the medallion program is needed to give District cab companies control of the industry.

Smith explained that if passed and implemented, the bill could limit the amount of taxicabs owned by non-D.C residents. Some drivers or companies may not want to pay the medallion fee, he said, reducing the amount of taxis available.

If a company buys a medallion, according to the proposal, it covers all of the cabs in its fleet. There is a fee for all drivers and companies to renew the medallion each year, ranging from $250 to $500.

“Right now, the [newer] cab drivers from out of D.C. do whatever they want to do. They hop around whenever they want to and take revenue from us,” he said.

Smith said the value of cab companies in D.C. is very low, but with the medallion program in place, drivers and companies would be able to resell their medallions when they want to retire or pass on the company.

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