D.C. Council addresses taxicab safety

The D.C. Council held a hearing on taxi safety Wednesday, less than 48 hours after a cab driver was fatally shot near Adams Morgan. The hearing, organized weeks ago, focused on assaults and the abuse of cab passengers. But in light of this week’s shooting, the Council is also considering new measures to keep drivers safe.

Mary Cheh of the D.C. Council began the public roundtable with a moment of silence for Solomon Okoro, who was robbed and shot to death around 3 a.m. Tuesday.

“It is a dangerous job and so the question for us as the government of D.C. is to say ‘How can we make this less dangerous?’” says councilmember{ } Jim Graham.

Graham suggested D.C. taxis should install bulletproof barriers, but many cab drivers resisted that idea because their cabs are for both professional and personal use.

Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton says safety will improve for drivers and passengers this summer as D.C. installs credit card systems, panic buttons and dome lights.

But women like Jen Corey say they will never hail a taxi again. Corey says she requested a cab ride from Georgetown to Friendship Heights two years ago when the driver became enraged and sped off in the opposite direction.

“I called police from the backseat while crying and banging on his seat to make him stop,” she says. “He eventually slammed on the brakes just enough so that I could jump out of the cab and then he took off. I was now left even further away from where I needed to go, in the dark, alone, under the Whitehurst Freeway.”

Earlier this year, Linton told the Council his commission receives about 150 complaints each month, 80 percent of those from women reporting verbal and physical harassment.

But Wednesday, the numbers were much lower and the answers were vague.

“Now we’re hearing in an industry that does about seven or eight million trips a year there are only 33 complaints [of verbal or physical harassment],” says Roy Spooner, the general manager of Yellow Cab D.C.

Taxicab Commission officials say one challenge is that a lot of the complaints are filed by visitors who don’t always follow up with the adjudication process after they leave town. But the bigger problem is that passengers, whether they’re visitors or locals, can’t identify the driver.

“Too often we get complaints without the person complaining have enough information to identify who the perpetrator was,” says Linton.