D.C. Councilmembers Propose Taxicab Medallion System… Again

Washington, D.C., is one of the five taxicab jurisdictions in the country that allows for essentially free entry. While the cab situation in D.C. is far from perfect, a renewed attempt to push medallions on the city could make it a lot worse. Here’s the text of the bill (PDF), introduced by Councilmen Harry Thomas (Ward 5), Marion Barry (Ward 8), Michael Brown (At-Large), and co-sponsored by Councilwoman Yvette Alexander (Ward 7).

This isn’t the first time this has been tried. A couple of years ago, the pro-medallion cheerleading was led by Councilman Jim Graham, who represents me in Ward 1. The plan was put on the back-burner, however, after the FBI raided Graham’s offices and arrested his Chief of Staff Ted Loza for accepting bribes from men with ties to the pro-medallion taxicab industry. Apparently, two years is long enough for us to forget about our impressively stupid and corrupt officials’ wheelings-and-dealings with sleazy, rent-seeking cab companies.

The legislation would establish six classes of medallions [Price Individual|Price Company]:

  • Class 1 Unrestricted — authorizes use of a taxi, either by an individual owner-operator or a company, to operate anywhere within D.C. or in any surrounding jurisdiction where use is authorized. [$5,000|$10,000]
  • Class 2 Restricted — authorizes use of a taxi in “geographically underserved areas,” which are defined as “east of the Anacostia River (Wards 7 and 8 ) and other designated areas of far northeast in Ward 5 as determined by the [District of Columbia Taxicab Commission].” [$2,500|$5,000]
  • Class 3 LEV Unrestricted — authorizes use of a taxi similar to Class 1, but with a requirement on using low-emissions vehicles, which are those that meet an “air pollution score of 9.5 or higher” from the EPA “and is estimated to emit 5.0 tons or less of equivalent carbon dioxide per year” by the Department of Energy. [$1,250|$2,500]
  • Class 3 LEV Restricted — same as Class 3 LEV Unrestricted medallions, except they have the Class 2 “underserved” restriction. [$750|$1,250]
  • Class 4 Wheelchair Unrestricted — same as Class 1, but the taxi must “accommodate[] a passenger using a wheelchair or other personal mobility device who needs a ramp or lift to enter or exit the vehicle.” [$250|$500]
  • Class 5 Unrestricted/Restricted — essentially a Class 1/2 tag for drivers who don’t live in D.C. [TBD|TBD]
  • Class 6 Unrestricted — a special permit for “transporting passengers during conventions or special events” that is “limited to the duration of the conventions or special events.” [TBD|TBD]

Taxis in classes 1-4 “shall not exceed 4,000 combined,” and the remaining medallion classes will be sorted out after the initial period — assuming the total number of Class 1-4 medallions issued is not greater than 4,000. It is no surprise that the politicians leading the charge in this case represent northeast and southeast Washington, areas where it is not very easy to find cabs — especially at night. But this bill will not make it easier to find cabs. It will do the exact opposite, and benefit wealthy cab company owners (and their bought-off politicians) who would be thrilled for medallions to trade at New York City prices. After all, this bill proposes to cut the number of licensed cabs from over 8,000 to no more than 4,000 without any efficiency-enhancing infrastructure improvements.

Another giveaway attached to the bill is found in (3)(h): establishing the DC taxicab medallion set-aside program. Of the 4,000 medallions, 150 will be set aside for residents who have lived in D.C. for at least 10 consecutive years and will be first-time cab drivers and operators. This is clearly targeted at Ward 5, Ward 7, and Ward 8’s residents — many of whom have lived in D.C. far longer than the recent gentrifiers residing in wealthier northwest Washington. These 150 medallions are also nontransferable until the owner has operated a taxi for 10 years. These 150 owner-operators would also be eligible for special subsidized loans via a $2 million Taxicab Operator Assistance Revolving Fund.

Reason Foundation’s Sam Staley had an excellent op-ed in The Washington Post regarding this bill a month back. The Center for American Progress’s Matt Yglesias identifies the “problem” that some on the D.C. Council are trying to “solve.” In the coming weeks, I’ll be looking into more of the issues surrounding this terrible proposal. Stay tuned!