The D.C. Taxicab Commission and the District’s Office of Human Rights announced a new effort to help residents report allegations of racial discrimination by Washington taxicab drivers.
The agencies began working together to streamline the process after the Office of Human Rights conducted an investigation that found few of the complaints filed with the DCTC included allegations of racial bias. The findings seemed to contradict anecdotal evidence and several media reports showing taxicabs routinely neglect to stop for African-American passengers.
“You have only two defenses for denying someone a ride. They are inebriated beyond control, or they are menacing and threatening you physically. There are no other reasons,” said taxicab commission chairman Ron Linton.
“We have many excellent taxicab drivers in the District. However, those who discriminate against passengers because of their race or disability must know we will not tolerate it,” said OHR director Monica Palacio in a statement.
A new, simplified complaint form is now posted to the websites of both agencies, and drivers who are found to have racially discriminated against passengers may be fined by both agencies.
A common complaint
In interviews with WAMU 88.5, African-American residents said they were unaware any complaint process existed to report allegations.
“A cab pulled up and asked where I was going, a huge red flag as they are supposed to just let you in the cab and take you wherever you need to go,” said Loryn Wilson. “When I told him, he flat out drove off. In fact, he sped off. Three other cabs passed me up that night.”
When asked if she filed a complaint, Wilson responded: “I didn't even know I could do that at the time, otherwise I would have.”
The D.C. Taxicab Commission does not keep track of allegations of racial discrimination against taxi drivers. They are lumped into the larger category of failure to haul: any instance when an on-duty driver declines to give a passenger a ride.
During the fiscal year starting in October, 213 failure to haul complaints have been filed with the DCTC. 348 were filed last fiscal year. Anecdotal evidence would indicate many people do not file complaints.
“I wouldn’t know to whom to complain about it,” said Delyon Gigger, 30, who said he is passed by taxis even when he is dressed in a suit, meaning he does not look like the stereotypical black youth.
“Even when I am up here on Capitol Hill standing outside Union Station waving down cabs they pass me right up,” he said. “I actually saw one cab pick up a Caucasian guy after I waved him down. He didn't pick me up.”
Wrong clothes, no ride
Malik Shelton said he believes D.C. cabbies, many of whom are immigrants from Africa long settled in the U.S., see a stereotype in the way he dresses. He said even when he has called a cab to pick him up at his home, drivers have taken off when he approaches the vehicle.
“You know how we dress as African-Americans in the District of Columbia. You know, he might drive off like we are trying to rob him or something,” said Shelton, who is in his early 20s.
“They look at me like I’m a criminal just because of the clothes I may wear or the style I may wear them in. And I hate to play the race card, but it could be the simple fact that I am African-American," he says.
Cab drivers interviewed by WAMU 88.5 as they waited in the taxi line at Union Station said they are aware of the problem, although none said they contributed to it.
“That is true, but I am not one of them,” said one cabby who declined to be named. “There are people who categorize everyone to be the same. Someone runs out of my cab without paying and he or she is black, then any black person is dangerous. But it doesn't work that way.”