Prince George's council OK's plan to add taxi permits
400 licenses to be added in October, other industry changes approved
Citing a ticking clock, Prince George's County Council members unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to double the number of licensed taxicabs.
"There's been too many years of doing nothing," Council Chairman Thomas A. Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel said just before the council voted.
The vote was taken at the council's last meeting before going on summer break, and with four council members leaving due to term limits this fall, the vote marks one of the last major initiatives the council will address before the Sept. 14 primary election. After summer break, the council is scheduled to meet one more time, on Sept. 7, the last meeting before the election.
The 9-0 vote approving the new taxicab regulations, which have the support of taxi drivers but has been intensely opposed by cab companies, came after a three-hour hearing.
Under the bill, Prince George's will add 400 permits for cabs; there are currently 775 permits. The county will sell 75 more permits each year until 2016 after that for $200 each. The bill also increases the fee for selling a permit to another driver to $2,000 and sets new rules for how the cab industry should operate.
County officials have not updated taxi cab regulations for more than a decade.
The passage Tuesday ends a two-year effort that began in December 2008 when 200 drivers staged a protest at the county headquarters in Upper Marlboro calling for more licenses. Currently, about 180 people own the 775 licenses in the county, and lease the cabs to drivers at a rate of about $330 per week.
Drivers say the current system gives a monopoly to established companies and makes it difficult to make money while carrying passengers at county-imposed mileage rates.
"We don't struggle because there's no business," said Henock S. Wogderse, a driver from Clinton. "We struggle because the cab companies take 50 percent of our earnings each year."
Company officials Tuesday pushed the council to reconsider the bill, warning that giving 775 more permits to drivers could hinder service quality.
"There's a question of whether the same levels of reliability will exist," said Kenneth Battle, owner of Bluebird Cab Co.
Some longtime drivers argued that there are not enough people taking taxis, and that doubling the number of taxis will wipe out business.
"It's bad now. It's gonna be worse," said Louis Johnson of Capitol Heights, a cab driver for the past 20 years. "Maybe you should take some of the buses off the streets, though I know you don't wanna hear that. That's what's killing the cabs."
Council members said the changes are likely to change the industry.
"It's going to force everybody to work harder," Dernoga said. "If that's what competition does, it's going to be good for everybody."
Drivers who supported the changes said they plan to form an independent coalition that will provide dispatching services and other management that companies charge for now.
"We will hold ourselves to higher standards," said driver Lucien Charles. "We do not need the companies to pretend they are on our side."
Council members agreed to study the industry each year before deciding to add the extra 75 licenses every fall until 2016.
"We'll leave those items on the table for those council members who will remain," said Councilwoman Camille Exum (D-Dist. 7) of Capitol Heights, who is leaving office this fall along with Dernoga and council members Sam Dean (D-Dist. 6) of Mitchellville, Tony Knotts (D-Dist. 8) of Temple Hills and Marilynn M. Bland (D-Dist. 9) of Clinton.
Drivers can pay $25 to enter a lottery for one of the 400 new licenses, which will be distributed in October. Last year, more than 600 drivers applied for a handful of available permits.
E-mail Daniel Valentine at email@example.com.