In the Commonwealth, drivers saw red Tuesday afternoon in the form of brake lights – and frustration – in Clarendon. It was all because of a protest by Arlington taxi drivers who purposely tied up traffic.
The cab drivers said they pay "stand dues" [or rent] to their taxi companies. They said those dues keep increasing without prior or proper notice. They also said they're not allowed to switch companies.
But the cab companies disputed their claims. In fact, they accused the protesters of pushing for an unregulated cab industry in Arlington.
Around noon in Clarendon, the drivers marched in protest against what they called “unfair working conditions.” Cab driver Daniel H. Mariam said, “We are treated as a slave, as modern time slaves.”
“We are demanding just basic human rights,” said Girma Desale, another cab driver.
After marching, the drivers got in their cabs and slowly circled the Clarendon Metro Station, holding up traffic.
Other drivers were not impressed. “I think that's pretty bad and inconvenient for everyone else that they're driving slow,” said one driver.
Mostly immigrants, these protesters claim their cab companies keep increasing their dues but won't let them review their contracts. To make ends meet, they say they're working 70 to 80 hours a week.
Desale said, “I have to raise my kids. I'm here for a better life. So things are getting harder and harder.”
The drivers called on Arlington County to hold a public hearing on the matter.
Jon Liss, Executive Director of Tenants and Workers United, said, “They're not allowed to move from company to company so they're subject to monopoly pricing. They can be fired. There's no bill of rights for taxi drivers so they can be fired with any reason or no reason.”
In response, the cab companies said this group of drivers is in the minority. One owner called their claims "an abject lie."
Blue Top Cab Vice President John Massoud claimed his stand dues have not increased in ten years. He added that drivers change companies all the time.
He also said taxi meter data shows the average driver in Arlington County is earning $57,000 a year. "What these drivers want is similar to D.C., so they can act any way they wish and there's no real oversight,” said Massoud.
At Friendly Cab, manager William Collins said his stand dues are $155 a month, not $300 a week as the protesters claimed.
The protest organizers promised more than 100 taxi drivers would participate in Tuesday’s protest, but it appeared only a few dozen showed up.
Still, they planned to repeat this, tying up traffic in other Arlington areas -- Shirlington, Courthouse and elsewhere. Next time, they said they might time it during rush hour.