WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - In an overnight, early morning, undercover test, WUSA9's investigative team hailed 20 cabs - and failed 20 cabs - in a check of basic District taxi regulations.
We started at midnight, when the inspectors with the DC Taxi Commission go off-duty. When our investigation ended at 4:00 a.m., we had not found a single driver who was in compliance withDC Taxi Commission's rulebook.
Previous WUSA9 tests have shows DC cabs stranding black and disabled passengers on the street while picking up other passengers on the same block.
This test focused on very basic taxi commission rules like broken meters, improperly licensed operators and vehicles, - like sedans operating as taxis, destination refusals, forced taxi sharing, functioning air conditioning, and not displaying - and sometimes refusing to - display required taxi identifications.
When asked, many of the drivers we confronted said that they knew they were violating the law. At least one admitted that he was taking the risk because he knew the taxi police weren't watching after midnight.
The DC Taxi Commission staffs investigators from 8:00 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday only.
According to the Chairman, the department doesn't currently have the budget to run undercover operations, nor can they afford to run on Sundays, or overnight.
The rule drivers most often ignored during our test? We counted nine basic driver identification violations in our sting - failure to display face cards, the photo IDs issued to drivers by the Taxi Commission.
The rulebook states that a driver's face card is to be displayed in an approved bracket or frame so as to be visible to all passengers. The fine for failing to do so is $25.
The Passenger's Bill of Rightsexplains basic rules taxi drivers must abide by. The sign is supposed to be displayed on the back of the front seat and needs to include the taxi's tag number, the company or owner's name, and the taxicab number, as well as an explanation of the complaint process with the Taxi Commission. The fine for not displaying the Passenger's Bill of Rights is $100. Cab inspectors - had any been on duty -- would have been able to fine five of the drivers we rode with for breaking this rule. Likewise, several cabbies did not have a "fasten seatbelt" sign visible - a $100 fine.
The fine is heftier for a non-functioning meter and/or failure to provide a printed receipt for a trip: $1000. We encountered six drivers who said that their printers were broken, though all six were able to hand us a printed receipt when we insisted and showed them our cameras. On three separate occasions, we weren't able to read the meter at all.
Like the receipt printers, two of our 20 cabbies said that their vehicles' air conditioning wasn't working. The fine for a broken air conditioner (between May 15th and October 15th) is $100.
Five of the cabs we hailed weren't DC cabs at all, and weren't supposed to be picking up fares in the District. Three were unmarked sedans, and the others were registered only to pick up passengers in Maryland or Virginia. At $1000 apiece, that's another $5000 in fines that the taxi inspectors could have been collecting.
Finally, the first person in a taxi has the right to refuse to share their ride with other passengers. Taxis are only allowed to share cabs at designated cab-share locations, and then only if the first rider consents to sharing. A taxi driver who ignores this right and solicits other riders risks a $100 fine. We found one such driver during our test.
The DC Taxi Commissioner says he will assign overnight inspectors later this year when the system gets newly approved revenues. You'll be able to watch the reaction of the Taxi Commissioner in our next taxi segment.
While conducing our tests, we saw one cab packed with seven people, including the cabbie. When they driver saw our camera, he ordered two passengers out.
The cab-by-cab breakdown of our investigation is as follows:
CAB ONE: Unmarked sedan
An unmarked sedan pulled a U-turn in order to pick us up outside WUSA9, 4100 Wisconsin Ave. NW. The driver was asked, "Are you a taxi?" The driver said yes, but this wasn't true. The driver protested that he was an Uber cab, but admitted that he wasn't on Uber's clock at the time. When asked to show his face card, the driver refused, and said he only picked us up as a "favor." At that point, we exited, and the illegal cab sped off.
This cabbie wasn't displaying his face card properly when he picked us up at the station. The driver wanted to know if we were hack inspectors when we asked him to show his ID. He eventually showed us where he kept his face card: tucked underneath the sun visor on the passenger's side.
The destination was Georgetown, at Wisconsin and M Street. Our driver had the Passenger's Bill of Rights tucked into the backseat pocket, when it should have been properly taped for display on the seat.
CAB FOUR: Unmarked Lincoln Towncar
In Georgetown, we got a ride from a driver who claimed to work for a Virginia limo service, even though it would have been illegal for any sedan to pick up a hailing fare in the street. We got out of the vehicle after the driver failed to show us ID of any kind.
CAB FIVE: Maryland cab
Still in Georgetown, we hailed a taxi from the curb and another out of District cab driver pulled over. When asked why he was trying to illegally pick up fares in DC, he drove off.
On our way to Lincoln Memorial, this cabbie had to be asked to display his face card. He also claimed that he had problems with his meter and refused to give us a printed receipt until we demanded one. The receipt he finally did give us listed the wrong time.
This driver attempted to give us a business card instead of a receipt, claiming his machine wasn't working properly. As we walked away, the driver called us back to give us a proper receipt - turned out, the machine was working after all.
CAB EIGHT: Virginia cab
West of the Washington Monument, we got a ride to National Airport. This was a Virginia taxi, illegally picking up fares in the District. When asked for a receipt at our destination, the driver turned off his meter and said that we'd gotten a free ride. Prior to turning off the meter, it had read $11.25.
Again, a driver offered a blank card instead of a receipt. The driver was able to print out a receipt when we asked for one.
This driver refused to show his ID until we showed our identification and arrived at our destination, back at Wisconsin and M in Georgetown. He acknowledged that he understood he was supposed to display his face card at all times.
This driver attempted to hand-write a receipt, but produced a printed receipt when asked.
Georgetown to the Washington Monument, included two violations: failure to display the Passenger's Bill of Rights, and a broken meter. We had to guess our fare, and paid $10.
Lucky ride #13 took us to Union Station. The driver was not displaying the Passenger's Bill of Rights or a fasten seatbelt sign. Like so many before him, he attempted to give us a business card instead of a receipt, but was able to provide a printed receipt when we asked.
According to the Passenger's Bill of Rights, a rider cannot be forced to share a cab, no matter the size of the vehicle. This van driver, who wasn't displaying the list of passengers' rights anyway, attempted to pick up other passengers along the way to Farragut West while be asked not to. The meter was blocked from view, leaving us to guess at the cost of the ride: $10.
This driver kept flashing his face card at us, but would not leave it displayed at all times, as required by the DC Taxi Commission.
There was no working air conditioning on this ride, a violation, and the driver refused to put his face card on display, although he did show it to us when asked.
The destination was Adams Morgan, and along the way, the bill of rights placard was partially concealed in the seat pocket. The driver showed his face card when we asked, but did not have it on display.
Driver refused to print a receipt and did not display his face card. After multiple requests, he did print out a receipt and let us get a look at his ID.
This driver did not display his taxi ID. When it was brought to his attention that his face card needed to be on display, the driver put his in the proper place and left it there for the rest of the ride.
When we hailed our final cab of the investigation, our driver said he couldn't turn on the A/C, which is why he preferred to work at night. To his credit, he offered us our choice of a printed or handwritten receipt.