How do we talk about gun violence when it's not in the form of a mass shooting? We held a student town hall to discuss how local kids deal with the threat of violence locally, and how adults can respond.
Modernizing and improving taxi service in the District is a goal riders, drivers, and the Taxicab Commission all agree on. There’s less agreement on how to get there. New rules approved in December call for fare hikes and newer cars, making both riders and drivers unhappy. At the same time, the District is cracking down on some new mobile taxi booking services. We speak with the DC Taxi Commissioner about what riders and drivers can expect.
- Ron Linton D.C. Taxicab Commissioner
- Travis Kalanick CEO of Uber
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, why Wikipedia is going dark for 24 hours tomorrow, but first, taxi riders in the District have a lot of gripes, not unlike metro riders, automobile drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, but we digress. Most of the taxi riders think the District needs to improve taxi service.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMayor Gray and the D.C. Council came up with a plan to modernize taxis in December, starting with a fare increase. Other possible changes include driver training, credit card readers in every taxi and a single color for all taxis. Riders say higher fares should come only with improvements and taxi drivers say the increase is not enough.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMeanwhile, the Taxi Commissioner himself orchestrated a sting operation that snared an independent car service driver last week putting the squeeze on a new mobile booking service called Uber. Some say the District should be encouraging new services like Uber. That's just a sample of some of the issues the head of the Taxicab Commission stepped into when he took the job back in August.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIRon Linton now joins us in studio. He is the D.C. Taxicab Commissioner. Ron Linton, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
MR. RON LINTONThank you Kojo. It's a pleasure being here.
NNAMDIYou came onboard in August. What goals did you have in taking on taxi service in the District?
LINTONWell, our goals are to develop the best taxicab industry in the country with the highest quality service and a fair and reasonable charge. But let me say, Kojo, that your introduction totally mischaracterized what occurred on Friday. We...
NNAMDIDid you not orchestrate the sting?
LINTONNo, we didn't have a sting. We had a test and it had nothing to do with the driver, it had to do with how the ride is charged. It was not anticipated that the driver would fail to have a D.C. license. It was not anticipated that he would not have a vehicular license or that he wouldn't have his insurance. That was quite apart from the basic question of how is Uber charging for its services? That was what the question was, not the issue with the driver.
NNAMDITell us what the regulations are. Uber is a limo service operating in the District of Columbia. How is Uber supposed to charge for its services?
LINTONWell, first of all, it's not a regulation, that's one of the difficulties. It happens to be D.C. law and D.C. law prescribes that limousines must enter into an advanced contract with a passenger and cite the cost on an hourly basis. Had the driver told me that the cost to the destination was going to be $25 based on a $50 an hour charge...
NNAMDIDid you ask?
LINTONOh yes, I asked him what the cost would be to the destination. He said he didn't know until we arrive there. What...
NNAMDIViolation number one.
LINTONThat's it. That's an unlawful charge and the other charges emerged as coincidental to that and all they tell us is, is that Uber is not vetting their drivers to ascertain whether they do have the proper credentials to operate in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIThe number to call if you'd like to join this conversation with the D.C. Taxicab Commissioner, Ron Linton, is 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com, a tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org
NNAMDIAllow me to declare, one, the limo service first has to give you up front, whether you ask or not, an indication of what the charge is.
LINTONThat's right. They have to enter into a carry contract.
NNAMDITwo, the limo service therefore cannot use a meter.
NNAMDISo what were the two violations? Were those the two violations?
LINTONNo, there was only one violation. The violation is an unlawful charge.
NNAMDIOkay. Are the regulations that govern how limo services operate in the District clear? That is, how do we know whether a limo service is a taxi, sometimes on a limo service and other times?
LINTONIt cannot be one or the other. It has to be one. The law in the matter dealing with limousines is in the law, not in the regulations. If you want to be a taxi, you have to have a meter. In the past, you have to be able to see the meter and the meter has to accord with the rates and charges established by the commission. If you want to be a limousine, then you have to enter into a contract with your passenger and state the cost up front.
NNAMDISimple as that?
LINTONSimple as that.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Now moving to the taxicab, some have said that -- well, specifically, the president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, Lynne Breaux, says that D.C. is a world-class city with a third-class taxi system. What do you say to that characterization?
LINTONWell I'm not going to get into characterizations. Let's say that the mayor clearly believes that there is significant and substantial improvement that has to be done with our taxicab industry. I have been chairman of the commission since August 1st, that's roughly four months, I believe, and we have launched a number of initiatives. But unfortunately, in a situation where you have an organization, an entity, that has been declining over a period of years, it takes more than four months or six months to turn it around.
LINTONBut we have a program that we're moving on. We have legislation that has been introduced by Councilwoman Shay (sp?) that is going to be very significant in helping us achieve these improvements. We have a mayor that is committed to supporting a regulatory process to achieving these commitments.
NNAMDICan we talk about some of the specifics of the proposals that were introduced? It's my understanding that one of them would cause the base fare for passengers to remain at $3, but the per mile rate would go from $1.50 to $2.16, correct?
LINTONNow you're raising issues about the rates and charges.
LINTONThat is not a component of the legislation that's pending. The Taxicab Commission is charged under the law to regulate the rates and charges of the taxicab industry. The taxicab industry, at the time I became chairman, had not had a rate increase since, well ,about 2009. Our analysis and evaluation by our staff was that when the city switched from the zone system to a meter system, it resulted in somewhere between a 20 percent and 30 percent reduction of income for the average taxi driver in this city.
LINTONWe received a petition for a fare increase. We held -- now, we've held two sessions of public hearings. We're in the midst of taking comments and we have a proposed, and I emphasize proposed, a change in rates that would essentially bring the rates to slightly more than what they were under the zone system, however...
NNAMDIAllow me to ask you for a clarification. From whom -- from what source does that proposed change in rates originate?
LINTONWell, it -- you start with a petition from a driver who asks for specifically rate changes on that. The regulation itself then has to be proposed by the commission. The commission is the one that develops the rule change.
NNAMDIWhat's the role of the mayor and the council?
LINTONThe council has the role of setting public policy. They have no role in the specific regulatory responsibility for the rates. The mayor has delegated all of his authority to the commission to fulfill its responsibilities under the Enabling Act to act as a regulatory body to set fair and reasonable rates.
NNAMDISo it's all on you?
LINTONWell, it's on me and my fellow commissioners.
NNAMDIOkay. So can we talk in more specific terms about what the proposed rate change would be?
LINTONWell, at the present time, the proposed rate change is to leave the $3 flat route rate as it is, that's the initial rate to place the mileage rate at increments of 27 cents a mile based on one eighth miles, which is the equivalent of $2.16 a mile and a $25 wait rate. That's the amount that is recorded on the meter when the...
NNAMDI$25 an hour?
LINTONAn hour. But that's recorded on the meter when the speed of the car is below ten miles an hour. Now, and then we eliminated all other charges and rates.
NNAMDISo there are no charges for extra passengers, no charges for extra baggage, none of that stuff?
LINTONNot as the proposed rule now stands. Now, you understand, Kojo, we're still in the comment period. The comment period does not end until the 23rd of January. We will, at that point, have to analyze all the comments that are -- the written as well as the oral, search out evidentiary facts, see whether there are any things that we overlooked, didn't understand correctly and then make whatever changes we think are appropriate.
LINTONThere's a process we go through where we try to find an evidentiary-based decision.
NNAMDII, in fact, understand very little, which is why I'm very glad that you are here. Additionally, it is my understanding, and correct me if I'm wrong, you've already done that ten times in this talk, a five-year age limit would phase out older, higher mileage vehicles.
LINTONNo, that's not correct. The proposed rule that...
NNAMDII've got to get something right here, go ahead.
LINTONWell, it's -- you have to -- but the proposed rule, the one that's pending and, again, it's subject to the comment period, is that vehicles that are older than seven years of age would have to be eliminated immediately and that no new vehicle older than five years of age could be introduced into the system.
NNAMDII see. Finally, you had a hearing on this last week, it was standing-room only at that hearing and it sounds as if a lot of people are quite unhappy with the new rules. Who has got issues with the changes, as far as you understand it, and why?
LINTONAnd also at the second hearing, we had a previous hearing of two and half hours which was, too, standing-room only. Well, because the people who are looking for increases are not satisfied with the amount of increase and the people who pay the fares are not satisfied with the amount of increases. It's not -- I'm not surprised and I don't think anybody should be surprised.
LINTONIt's the traditional conflict between the payee and the payer.
NNAMDIA lot of the people who pay the fares would like to see taxicabs in D.C. be able to accept credit cards. Who has an issue with that?
LINTONI don't believe anybody. Well, let me pull that back. There is, among the taxi drivers themselves, an issue, but I think it's because they don't quite understand exactly how it's going to work and it would take us too long for me to explain all that to you at this point.
NNAMDIThis I know.
LINTONBut let me say that we are proceeding. I think that is one of the most important improvements that we can make in taxicab service in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIBring it into the 21st century.
LINTONThat's correct. In other cities we've surveyed that use extensive use of credit cards, universal use of them, we find that 97 percent of the passengers are paying by credit card. We are now in the process of developing a plan that hopefully will succeed in introducing, beginning in June, credit card machines, GPSs, verification on drivers, a whole host of technological things that will make driving and seeking cabs much easier.
NNAMDINeedless to say, we have a full bank of telephone calls on this issue.
NNAMDISo if you'd like to connect with us, at this point, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org. We'll start with Calvin in Capitol Heights, Md. Calvin, your turn.
CALVINYes, how are you today, Mr. Kojo?
CALVINI've been listening to you for years.
NNAMDII am well.
CALVINAnd hello to the Commissioner. Yes, I've been driving a cab for more than 25 years. I recently moved out the District into Capitol Heights. Kojo, I'm going to send you some information because you have no idea. They have been trying to put us out of business. I mean, when they said -- when Senator Levin passed, put the law in, it was to automate the taxi cabs meter. It was for us to have a zone meter, not a time and distance meter. And, I think, when they brought in the time and distance meter, they realized that it was going to cost more so Fenty lowered our rates from $1.80 a mile to $1.50 a mile.
NNAMDICalvin, what do you think should now be done?
CALVINWell, what needs to be done is that we need to put the rate back up so the cab drivers won't have a problem going long distances. They need to keep these fees then because what they're doing right now is going to cost us a loss of money because we don't take -- most of our work is downtown and so we...
CALVIN...don't go long distances.
CALVINSo our money is made with the fees that we get. If they cut those fees out, they will practically put us out of business. And we have no representation on the commission there. I think there's three seats on the commission...
CALVIN...that have not been (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWe have a lot of other people waiting, Calvin. I'll have the taxi cab commissioner answer several questions at a time. So we'll move on to Daniel in Northeast Washington. Daniel, your turn.
DANIELKojo, thank you. This is, like, everything else in Washington. Nothing is ever good enough. They're hurting the drivers. They're hurting the low income people who depend desperately on cabs. D.C. cabs were world known for being a good price, great service. Fenty had to interfere with it for nothing. Gray wanted to switch it to medallions to get it out of the hands of the small operator.
LINTONThat's not true.
DANIELAnd Mr. Linton, what do you drive, an SUV? Do you know what it's like to not have a car Mr. Linton?
NNAMDIOkay. Daniel, we move onto William in McLean, Va. William, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WILLIAMThank you very much for having me. I wanted to talk about the petition that Nicholas Maxwell, the man who petitioned for the fair increase, he recently had an interview with Pete Tucker from TheFightBack.org. And he basically said that, and I quote, "The entire direction from my petition was basically prompted by Mr. Linton," and basically said that DCTC manipulated what was in the petition. So I, Mr. Linton...
NNAMDIOne question for you, Linton, before I -- William, before I put your question to Ron Linton, have you heard from people before this who were disgruntled about the zone system? William, are you there?
WILLIAMOh, I'm sorry.
WILLIAMI thought you -- yeah.
NNAMDI...have you, in the past, heard from people who were disgruntled about the zone system?
WILLIAMOh, yes, yes. And I've heard of people who were disgruntled. At the same time, though, it did make, you know, our trips a predictable price. So I...
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to go to Ron Linton. It would appear, Mr. Linton, that you are the head of a vast conspiracy.
LINTONWell, let me say, Kojo, that that is a categorical falsehood, that I never met Mr. Maxwell until his petition showed up. We never had any conversation with Mr. Maxwell on the substance of his petition, that we did have one of our attorneys assist him in the formatting of the petition. And subsequent to Mr. Tucker's misrepresentations, Mr. Maxwell assured me that that was not what he said but that his words were twisted. I'm going to say it one more time, it's an absolute falsehood that we directed Mr. Maxwell in any way, shape or form.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue our conversation with Ron Linton. He is the D.C. Taxicab Commissioner. We're really interested in hearing as lot as we can from riders. So far, all the calls we've gotten seem to be from either drivers or former drivers. And I see a number of other drivers lined up. If you are a rider and you can't get through, send us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Ron Linton. He is the D.C. Taxicab Commissioner. And so far in our conversation, we have been hearing from taxi drivers and supporters of some taxi drivers. Anyway, however, we got a tweet from planetmikeus who said "Get GPS, better drivers, credit card readers, please." How much of that are you hearing?
LINTONQuite a bit and it is exactly what is on the top of our priority list. And we are moving as rapidly as we can toward that end.
NNAMDITherefore, back to the telephones. Here now is Daniel in Washington, D.C. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELThank you, Kojo. Actually, as a new driver, cab drivers out here in Washington, D.C., you're definitely looking forward going to the next level. The only thanks that we're not getting is -- it has to be a partnership. We not feeling like this is being a partnership. We feel like it's two different parts and clashing. And the previous administration has become even personal with Mayor Fenty and we -- that's not what we're looking for.
DANIELWe're looking for a partnership in D.C., trying to provide a great service. This is a customer service business. We want the commissioner and all of his administrators to help us achieving this goal for the community and also make sure we provide for our family. We have families. We work 12 to 18 hours a day trying to provide...
NNAMDIIt is my understanding, Daniel, that cab drivers do not feel that this rate increase is enough; is that correct?
DANIELNot only that, Kojo. That is one. Number two is the credit card. We love to have credit cards because it brings more money to our pockets. The only thing is, we don't want to be robbed by mom and pop shops who will charge us extraordinary amounts of money to cash our credit card receipts. We need help from those. And third and most importantly...
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have the commissioner respond to that because...
NNAMDI...because our caller, Daniel, seems to feel that cashing their credit card receipts might be too expensive for the cab drivers.
LINTONThe plan we are pursuing, Kojo, when -- absolute cost to cab drivers or cab companies, absolutely nothing.
NNAMDIYou heard that, Daniel?
DANIELYes, one more question.
DANIELI heard the commissioner talk about the (word?) of life. That -- we not understanding that. More clarification. Do we all -- cards have to be from (unintelligible) and then you have to switch them every five years? Or once...
NNAMDIThe five year plan, Commissioner Linton, the plan involving cabs not being more than five years old. You mentioned earlier...
NNAMDI...that that involves seven years and then five years.
LINTON...that's the proposed regulation. And as I said, we are going through the comment period. So I'm not going to comment on what the final regulation might look like. But, basically, what the mayor's program is, is to modernize the fleet in five years. And it's the commission's responsibility to determine how that gets done. We're beginning to analyze and examine that. And this regulation will be a first step in achieving a five year modernization.
NNAMDIOkay, Daniel. I move onto McConan (sp?) in Washington, D.C. McConan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MCCONANYeah, Kojo, good afternoon. You know, my question is -- to the commissioner is, you know, if we -- they're not listening to our opinion, every proposal change made by Fenty (unintelligible) from Fenty is based on what the customers had said, what (word?) is what the commissioner, whatever said, who are -- who have corrupted the (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIThey're not listening, in McConan's view, to the drivers. I know you have to leave shortly. So Commissioner Linton...
NNAMDI...how do you balance the requests...
NNAMDI...of the riders versus the those of the drivers?
LINTON...we held four -- we have held four and a half hours of public hearings, principally attended by drivers. I think, in all those who presented oral presentations, not more than 10 were from the public and that the remainder were drivers. So I'm really at a loss to understand why I'm charged with not listening to them. Second, we have an open comment period. We're receiving hundreds of letters and emails, all of which have to be analyzed and looked at. Now, many of those come from the general public and the riders, but drivers have not been precluded from having every opportunity to express themselves.
NNAMDII have one more question for you that doesn't have to do with the proposal as much as -- well, I'll have Jenn in Washington ask it. Jenn, your question.
JENNHi, Kojo. I have driven and ridden a bicycle in the city for 15 years and I've noticed a significant difference in what the cab drivers used to be. A lot of them used to be native D.C. drivers and they're very skilled drivers. Now, we have a lot of immigrants, which, yeah, they're pursuing the American dream and that's great, but there's some significant cultural differences in how they drive their cars. Specifically, and I've been in other countries so I know this, but they don't drive with a margin for error. There's no (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIJenn, would like to know what kind of training drivers go through...
NNAMDI...when issued licenses in the District of Columbia.
LINTONWell, there has not been an open driver application since I've been chairman. There will be again, probably next year. And part of our program will be educational requirements prior to applying for driving and annual refresher courses required in order to renew license. We recognize that there are some concerns, been expressed very strongly about the manner in which our drivers know how to get around, know our city and how they perform. And we have a program and a plan to upgrade all of that.
NNAMDIRon Linton is the D.C. Taxicab Commissioner. Thank you so much for joining us.
LINTONIt's a pleasure being here, Kojo.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking about why Wikipedia is going to shut down for an entire day, tomorrow, in protest of legislation on Capitol Hill. But now joining us by telephone is Travis Kalanick. He is the co-founder and CEO of the aforementioned Uber. Uber is a mobile car booking service operating in San Francisco, the district and other cities nationwide. Travis Kalanick, thank you for joining us.
MR. TRAVIS KALANICKHey, how are you doing?
NNAMDII'm doing well. Tell us about Uber. How does the service work?
KALANICKLet's see, so we are an efficient lead generation system for limo and sedan companies, town car companies. Essentially, our customers have an iPhone app or an Android app and they open it up and they make a request to get a town car. You know, they want a speedy sort of -- they want a speedy, convenient, classy ride.
KALANICKThey want to get a town car in an efficient way. And what we do is, we identify which town car is closest to them and then connect the two and basically allow the rider to contract with the driver or essentially the limo company. And they get to -- they get service in, you know, pretty quick fashion. And I think that's probably the best description for what Uber does.
NNAMDIWhat relationship does Uber have with its drivers? What relationship, more specifically, does Uber have with the driver whose car was impounded in Friday's operation?
KALANICKYes, so we contract with the limo companies and the limo companies often have a number of drivers. It can be, you know, anywhere from one to dozens and we contract with them as business partners, essentially.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Steve who is an Uber customer who lists the reasons that he loves Uber. He says "As soon as I opened the application on my iPhone, it knows exactly where I am and how many minutes away a driver is to my location. With one click, it notifies the driver who I am, where I am and it begins driving toward me. All the while, I'm updated as to how many minutes away the driver is. I don't have to wait 30 minutes on hold to put in my order. It's all done in 15 seconds -- in 5 seconds." And then he says, "It costs about 30 percent more than taxicabs. Tip is included and it's billed to my credit card."
NNAMDIIt is my own experience, Travis Kalanick, that tips generally are included in a limo services bill. But what the taxicab commissioner said happened on this occasion was that the limo was using a meter and that is absolutely forbidden in the District of Columbia for limos. What is your understanding of that law?
KALANICKYeah, well, first, is that, no car that's -- no car and no driver that's on our system has a meter in the car. And I'm not really sure what the commissioner is referring to. We just don't have meters in the car. These are limo companies. They have normal business around the District on normal days. And when they're between jobs, they'll often, you know, where they have dead time, they'll often log into our system so that they can fill that dead time and become a more efficient operation. So there's no meter in the car, first. And second, limo companies in the District, for decades, have charged by time and distance.
KALANICKYou know, it matters. Because obviously, time matters because, you know, you have a driver and his time is valuable. But also, you have -- excuse me. But also it matters whether it's a short trip in the city or a long trip outside of the city, you know (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, the commissioner says that, I guess, time and distance don't matter in D.C. law. That the limo driver is supposed to be able to say, up front, how the trip will cost. How will that effect how Uber operates in the District, if you say that time and distance should be factors?
KALANICKWell, I mean, first, is that if you look at the regulations, the D.C. taxi commission, it's actually quite clear that time and distance is how limos charge. In fact, the definition of a sedan is "a for-hire vehicle designed to carry" -- I'm reading from the regulations right now, "a for-hire vehicle designed to carry fewer than six passengers, excluding the driver, which charges for service on the basis of time and mileage." That's from the taxicab commissions own regulations.
NNAMDIWell, what the commissioner seems to be saying is that there is a difference between that regulation and a law which applies to limos which apparently states, and apparently you haven't seen such a law, which apparently states that a limo driver is supposed to be able to give the cost up front.
KALANICKYeah, well, so first, I would say, I'd really love for him to specify that law, right. We've obviously been put in an interesting situation where he's hauled my company out as violating the law in a public forum, in a public hearing without sending any notice on which law he specifically -- that we were violating. And, you know, at the least, that's pretty out of turn for a public official to do something like that.
KALANICKBut, second, obviously, we're digging through -- we dug through regulations and laws before we went into the District to make sure that we would be operating legally, talked to a few folks that actually worked for the commission. And we're pretty certain that we are obeying the laws. And, you know, some of these things that the commissioner is talking about, we can't find in the law anywhere. And he hasn't actually specified the actual law that we're breaking. And so...
NNAMDIAnd you have not been able to get the taxicab commissioner or anyone in the taxicab commissioner's office to talk with you?
KALANICKWe reached out last week and we haven't heard anything back. I mean, obviously there's been, you know, there's been back and forth in the press on this issue. What we tried, you know, what we've been trying to get is actually for the commissioner or anybody that works for him to actually specify a law that we're violating. Nevertheless, we don't think -- real, real quick.
KALANICKWe just don't think we're -- we don't think we're violating any law and we can't find any law that is even a gray area.
NNAMDISo nevertheless, you are continuing to operate in the District of Columbia?
KALANICKThat's correct. That's correct.
NNAMDIYour service is still available. There's another hearing in the District on taxi reform on January 30th. Will someone from Uber show up? I'm pretty sure a number of your supporters are likely to show up. But is there likely to be anybody from Uber in that hearing, since you can't seem to get a response from the taxicab commission any other way?
KALANICKWell, look, I think, for us, it's business as usual, right? You know, there hasn't been a cease and desist sent to us. There hasn't been a specific law stated that we're actually breaking and so we operate as normal. And, you know, if you -- we've got lawyers looking through regs to see if we missed anything, but we just haven't found that. As far as participating in public forums, I mean, we want to make sure that we know what's going on in terms of, you know, where the taxi commission goes with its, you know, goes about its business, and the things they want to change to make the system better.
KALANICKWe obviously think we're part of that, but I think, in the meantime, we have a pretty reliable, robust, convenient and accountable system...
KALANICK...that I think, you know, if you go online or you look, you hear from a number of folks, you know, they're quite enjoying and they think it's a great alternative, a great transportation alternative for the District.
NNAMDITravis Kalanick is the co-founder and CEO of Uber, which is a mobile car booking service operating in San Francisco, in the District, and other cities nationwide. Travis Kalanick, thank you for joining us.
KALANICKThank you very much.
NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, why Wikipedia is shutting down tomorrow in protest of legislation on Capitol Hill. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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