Editorial: Complex cab rules need a review

Editorial: Complex cab rules need a review

Coverage of the fractious relationship between taxi drivers, cab companies and city officials has graced our pages several times in recent weeks. And after careful study of the industry, we can confidently conclude the system is dysfunctional, if not broken.

Drivers — all independent contractors — want more autonomy. Company officials seek the protection of their investments and the success of their businesses. And City Hall wants a stable taxicab industry serving the public.

None of these goals are mutually exclusive. Yet the three sides can’t seem to find common ground.

How bad is it? They can’t agree on whether a change in state law governing taxicab regulations could destroy the local industry or just maintain the status quo.

Drivers want to move freely between companies, but under Richmond’s revamped law, companies could then hire new drivers as replacements. This will lead to a spike in the number of taxis operating in Alexandria, clogging the streets with cabs and decreasing incomes for drivers, city officials warn.

Not so fast, say cabbie supporters. They argue that another section of state law lets local officials cap the number of taxis in the city, which would prevent the predicted flood of new drivers.
If you’re confused as to how such knowledgeable people could draw completely different conclusions, you’re not alone.

Because it’s getting to the point where the informed resident — or city councilor — needs degrees in law, economics and business as well as a background in transportation management and labor disputes to understand the issue, we wholeheartedly support forming a task force to examine the industry and how it is regulated.

Rich Baier, director of transportation and environmental services, is expected to ask city council for permission to form the group later this month. City councilors should approve the measure without delay.
That might not be what cabbies want to hear — they believe the reforms they’re seeking can be implemented quickly and without review — but the industry needs an audit. Consumers want access to safe, reliable and convenient taxicabs. The continued strife only serves to undermine the public’s confidence in taxicabs and City Hall’s ability to manage the industry.

In the past, we’ve called on our elected officials to deregulate the industry, and we stand by that position. We hope forming a task force, comprised of representatives from all sides, is a step in that direction.

At the very least, we hope a body of stakeholders can simplify the byzantine set of rules regulating the industry.