Cabbies, city at odds over inspections

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Cabbies, city at odds over inspections
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At least one taxicab company is calling on the city to overhaul its inspection system after a last-minute rush ended with officials suspending 68 taxis following the holiday weekend. 

City law requires each cab undergo evaluation by the Hack Inspectors Office, run by Alexandrias police department, during a three-month window beginning in March and ending in June. Drivers swamped Alexandrias Eisenhower Avenue inspection site in Junes final weeks, weathering lengthy lines and hours of waiting to get a seal of approval from city officials. 

Its a system thats worked until this year, when many drivers waited until the last minute to get their cabs inspected, said Chris Spera, deputy city attorney.  

Some guys just didnt come at all and others all came on the last day when it was simply impossible for all the inspections to take place, he said. Weve had this process for years and most of our drivers are tuned into this. Weve not had this [problem] before. I have no good explanation why this year was different.

LaTasha Williams, operations manager at Alexandria Union Cab, concedes the drivers share some of the blame for procrastinating, but said the citys inspection process could be more flexible.

Officials give each companys drivers a different month to get their cars inspected, a schedule sent out in January. Since companies dont own the vehicles, its up to the drivers to get inspected.

But the site is open for just five hours daily during the workweek and drivers go on different days depending on the age of their vehicle, Williams said. Thats not much time given the citys largest cab fleets Union Cab and Yellow Cab were scheduled for inspection in June, she said.

Give them more time, youve got to give them more time, Williams said, who had 13 cabs suspended. Youve got almost 800 cabs in the city and you only have three months to inspect 800 cabs with two days [a week] being the main days youre doing inspection. Give them more time.

Williams would like to see the city offer inspections for five months or so and if drivers cant find the time to get inspected, up the punishment. Currently, the city suspends cabs that have gone uninspected or failed inspection until they go through the process or are approved, according to Spera.

Part of the problem may be in part due to manpower, Williams said. One of the citys inspectors was out on injury leave and the city didnt have the personnel to handle the flood of drivers, she said. 

Ashley Hildebrandt, police department spokeswoman, rejects the accusation. Officials shifted around personnel to make sure manpower remained the same, she said. 

We did have someone injured, but we made sure that didnt slow us down, Hildebrandt said. The main issue, the main reason they werent approved is that they didnt come for inspection. The fact of the matter is they were given several notices about it.

Her words dont do much to assuage the anger of Tefera Woldemichael, a Union Cab driver with seven years of experience in Alexandria. He recalls seeing just one inspector on site. 

Some drivers, they were there for two or three days, so thats why we really got mad, he said. The city doesnt pay attention [to us].

The city waited until July 5 to activate suspensions, allowing drivers to work through the lucrative holiday weekend, Spera said. 

Still, Woldemichael estimates each hour waiting for an inspection takes roughly $25 out of his wallet. Hes not alone, said Williams.  

Right now business is very, very slow. To be taken out of the city for two or three four days to get everything taken care of, its a hassle, she said. This is what they do for a living, this is how they earn their money to take care of their families and the other issues and situations they may have This is their bread and butter.

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