Editorial: Alexandria City Council needs to know when to step back

Editorial: Alexandria City Council needs to know when to step back
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The Alexandria City Council gave the green light to a bevy of changes, with the vast majority being fare-related, to the local taxicab industry Tuesday night. While the tweaks — part of the city’s biennial review of the cab fleet — seem acceptable to officials, company representatives and drivers, they also serve as a reminder of just how much City Hall meddles in an ostensibly private industry.

This is not the first time we’ve noted the city’s overbearing presence in the free market of taxicabs. The previous council caused a stir when it weighed revoking drivers’ certificates if they were rude to members of the public or city staff during the 2010 review.

Nothing so onerous came up this time around, but we remain troubled at just how much authority City Hall wields over the industry. Tuesday’s legislation revolved around redefining and increasing taxi fares, but do city officials determine how much a meal should cost at any of Alexandria’s eateries? Do they set the labor rates for local auto mechanics or determine how much an area accountant should charge for doing your taxes?

Do they mandate how many employees a local shop can hire?

If the supply of cabs in Alexandria outweighs the demand — as city staff contends — then the market will correct itself. If customers don’t like one company’s service, they’re free to look to another next time around. Or they could take advantage of a DASH bus, the King Street Trolley, Metro, Capital Bikeshare or even Uber, which is making waves in Washington.

And if customers demand the ability to use credit cards — a concept that is heading to the city’s parking and transportation board for review — cab drivers should listen for fear of losing clients to companies more willing to embrace technology. They should not be forced into doing so through an edict passed down by city council.

Officials are “balancing the interests of our visitors and our residents … as well as the interests of our drivers and the companies that operate here in the city in trying to make sure we continue to have a viable industry that serves the city well,” said City Councilor Justin Wilson on Tuesday night.

Maybe that’s the case. We just think cab companies and drivers would do all right on their own.