D.C. cab drivers are pissed about the high costs of city-mandated modernization, so on Tuesday, about 800 of them packed into a union building on Ames Street NE for the first meeting of a new partnership between drivers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. From the sounds of it, they already had the labor union thing down: Together the drivers cheered, chanted one-liners like “We will win,” and implored each other to join together as a collective voice.

Cab drivers have picked up a bad rap in recent years, with many consumers viewing them languishing behind their more technologically adept competitors. And since the D.C. Taxicab Commission mandated that they upgrade parts of their cabs and install credit-card readers, they’ve appeared resistant. But yesterday, the drivers once again insisted that they are not necessarily against any of these changes; they just feel the city forced the reforms on drivers in a way that hit them deep in their pockets.

When one speaker said the D.C. Taxicab Commission told them the new dome lights would cost cab drivers $180 a piece, all the drivers in the audience yelled out what they actually paid for the dome, which was anywhere from $400 to $500.

“They are cutting down our livelihoods, cutting down our bread and butter,” cab driver Syed Hussain said after the meeting. “In the 25 years I’ve been driving, I’ve never seen such a crowd.”

The teamsters will also fare pretty well from this partnership. Membership dues to the newly established Washington D.C. Metro Taxi Operators Association run about $25 a month and before the meeting even started Tuesday, 1,000 cab drivers had already signed up. After the meeting, it appeared hundreds more had registered.

According to the association’s bylaws that the group approved Tuesday, the purpose of the partnership is to “secure a sensible, fair and safe framework for the operation of metered taxi cabs with the Washington, D.C. metro area and advance the interests of metered taxi cab operators through public education, representation of metered taxi cab operators interests before public bodies with responsibility of taxi cab regulation, development of legislation and policy statements aimed at securing equity and safety for taxi cab operators through lobbying and political action, and other lawful means.”

“No more disrespect,” Addis Gebreselassie, a taxi driver, said in a succinct speech laying out what he wanted to come from this new association.

Photo by Perry Stein