WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) - A hidden camera WUSA9 taxicab investigation shows D.C. cabs denying service to a black undercover 9 News staffer twice as often as to a similarly aged and dressed white passenger.
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"I didn't know he was white"
Undercover video shows one cab refuse the black passenger, and going on to pick up an undercover white passenger a hundred feet later who requested the same destination.
"I didn't know he was white," the driver said when confronted on camera by 9 Wants to Know. "I drive for anybody."
Click here to see extended video: This video shows the driver when he refused to transport black passenger.
Click here to see extended video of black taxi driver apologizing for not picking up black passenger.
Click here for extended video or repeat refusals from other cabs.
In the end, he hung his head and apologized.
"I'm sorry, the driver said.
Six of 40 cabs tested don't service black passenger
We asked all 40 cabs that we tested to take us to the intersection of Savannah St. and Congress St. in Southeast Washington, D.C.
Surveillance video show six cabs either pass by the black passenger in favor of a the white passenger, or verbally refuse service using various excuses.
The driver of Riteway Cab #7 is the only cab who ultimately acknowledged that his decision was influenced by race, but initially claimed he didn't even notice the race of the passenger whom he did agree to pick up.
In the video you can hear what sounds like the driver locking his car doors as he refuses service to the black passenger.
The driver claimed he rejected the black passenger because another customer had just bailed on him.
He said the problem passenger had requested the same location used by the WUSA9 undercover staffers in our test.
"This man I took to Southeast. I took a black man," the taxi driver said. "He didn't pay me."
He ultimately agreed to take the black passenger to the requested Southeast destination.
Most cabs tested agree to Southeast destination
Out of all the cabs we tested, the majority agreed to take the black passenger where he wanted to go. Our destination? Malcolm X Elementary and Recreation Center where neighbors say cabs seldom come.
"They say, I'm not going that way," said one resident.
"I can't get a ride from here," said a frequent neighborhood visitor. "It's very hard."
With both undercover WUSA9 staffers requesting that same destination, the video shows the black passenger being passed up for service six times, while the white passenger is refused service three times.
One undercover video shows a cab going right past our black staffer to pick up the white staffer down the block.
The video also shows cabbies refusing to take this reporter, a 49 year old, gray haired, suit and tied, white reporter, to the same Southeast location.
Nothing new on streets of DC
It's not a new problem in Washington.
A 1995 undercover 9 News investigation showed even the then- taxi commissioner, Karen Herbert, a black woman, couldn't hail a cab.
In December 2012 during our two day test, 34 of the 40 cabs tested agreed to take us to Southeast
D.C. law allows taxis to refuse service if they fear injury, but prohibits that decision being made because of race.'
Only two of six cab companies respond
WUSA9 camera recorded cabs from Travelers, Riteway, Premium, Dial, Federal, and Lincold either refusing service directly or driving by our black staffer without stopping.
Only Riteway and Premium cabs returned calls for comment.
"We tell all the drivers, you can't discriminate, said Shaw Qureshi, owner of Riteway Cab. "They know, but they take chances."
Riteway is the cab company that employs the driver who told us he refused to pick up the black man because another black man had failed to pay him.
"I know they are concerned about their safety, especially around the holidays because taxis are easy targets," Qureshi said. "The cabbie is worried but what he did is wrong and I may get rid of him."
Jeff Schafer, the owner of Premium taxicab, said he himself forwards complaints like this to the Taxi Commission.
"It's an ongoing problem especially in the downtown area because many drivers refuse to go to the outskirts, no matter where it is," Schafer said.
"I've talked to the Commissioner about it and I'm glad we have something on TV to make people aware of it."
DC Taxi Commisioner promises "severe fines"
After seeing preview clips of an undercover WUSA9 investigation airing Thursday night, the D.C. Taxicab Commission issued a statement saying it "is determined to eliminate the discriminatory actions of drivers."
The full story hadn't yet been broadcast when the commission responded, but preview clips show one cab refusing to take a black man to a Southeast Washington destination, while picking up a white man 100 feet up the road and agreeing to take him to the same location.
"I want it understood that enforcement against drivers who refuse to haul is the number one priority of the DC Taxicab Commission," DCTC Chairman Ron M. Linton said in the statement.
The statement said the Commission intends to change taxi behavior with "severe fines" of up to $500 and by establishing driver training and education courses.
"Our Hack Inspectors put forth a diligent effort to make sure drivers adhere to our regulations and we encourage passengers to lodge formal complaints with our office so that we may proceed to enforce Commission regulations," Linton said.
The statement identified a 24-hour service number to handle complaints. You can reach the hotline by calling 855-484-4966 and selecting option one.