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D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells called on the D.C. Office of Human Rights this week to investigate racism allegations surrounding the D.C. Taxicab Commission and taxi drivers, who have been accused of not picking up prospective customers because of their race or disability.
Wells, who is running for mayor and previously oversaw the Transportation Committee on the Council, said in a release that “D.C. residents are routinely passed by when trying to hail a taxicab—not because the taxi isn’t available, but because of the resident’s race or disability.” He said Taxicab Commission Chair Ron Linton‘s response to these allegations (Linton said it is not about race, but “economics”) is also cause for concern.
OHR Director of Policy & Communications Elliot Imse says his office will meet internally next week to decide whether to formally launch an investigation, but that they have received complaints in the past from customers accusing cab drivers of discriminatory practices. He says the allegations Wells describes “definitely do exist.”
Imse says he can’t speak to the Taxicab Commission’s handling of these discriminatory practices.
Within the last few months, OHR created a webpage describing taxi cab discrimination and explaining how people can lodge a complaint against a taxi cab driver.
D.C. Taxicab Commission Spokesman Neville Waters says the commission has nothing to hide and is “confident” in its performance.
If an investigation takes place, and the commission and cabs are found guilty of persistent racial discrimination, Imse says penalties could range from payment to those who were discriminated against to sensitivity training for cab drivers.
Wells’ call for an investigation comes days after WUSA9’s Russ Ptacek released the findings of his undercover investigation, which found that about 33 percent of cab drivers passed over black passengers, while none passed a white passenger.
Linton told Ptacek that it’s not about race when a cab driver doesn’t pick up someone, but “economics.”
Wells—who has long been in favor of dissolving the entire commission—called on Linton to resign. Linton apologized for his comment, saying it “was simply incorrect” and the commission places “the highest priority on eradicating this violation.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery