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DMV discovers taxi tag problem
(Published March 6, 2006)

Staff Writer

As many as 80 percent of D.C. cabs may be titled and registered in violation of local motor vehicle laws, according to city officials, who recently discovered the longstanding practice and are trying to resolve the problem without decimating the city's taxi industry.

Department of Motor Vehicles Director Anne Witt told a D.C. City Council committee Feb. 23 that the city’s series of "H" vehicle tags, reserved for use by taxis (or "hacks"), have "automatically" been issued to legally licensed taxicab drivers without regard to their residence.

But the practice is "circumventing the law," which requires D.C. residence for 30 days before titling and registering a motor vehicle in the nation’s capital, she said. Between 75 and 80 percent of all D.C. taxicab drivers are residents of suburban Maryland or Virginia who own their cabs and register them in the District, according to an estimate from D.C. Taxicab Commission officials.

Witt said her department found the problem as part of a comprehensive review of D.C. laws and regulations to ensure their alignment. As a result, beginning March 1, the District no longer will issue so-called "H tags" -- required for taxicabs to legally pick up passengers in the city -- to newly licensed taxicab drivers if they do not live in the District of Columbia.

The change will not affect suburban residents who drive taxicabs that are owned by a D.C.-based taxi company.

Witt and D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Causton A. Toney told Councilwoman Carol Schwartz, R-At Large, who chairs the council’s public works committee and conducted the public oversight hearing, that they are working together to resolve the conflict.

"This is no vendetta or anything to harm the taxi industry," Witt asserted during the hearing.

While a resolution is sought, Witt said the city will continue to renew tags for taxicab drivers caught in the dilemma as long as they apply for renewal in a timely manner. The city does not plan to cancel tags currently in use that violate the law, but Witt noted that suburban residents who need to replace their taxi vehicles will not be issued new tags.

Toney told Schwartz’s committee that the taxicab commission is "enthused about the opportunity to set [new] standards" that will define requirements for operating a taxicab in the District.

"We are going to continue to work at something that results in a long-term fix," he said.

Currently, taxicabs displaying Maryland or Virginia license tags can discharge passengers but cannot pick them up in the District of Columbia. Likewise, taxis displaying D.C. tags may discharge passengers in suburban jurisdictions but cannot pick up passengers outside of the District.

Schwartz expressed concern that suburban residents who are making their living as self-employed D.C. taxicab drivers, with cars illegally registered in the District under the city’s longstanding practice, are not required by law to pay D.C. income tax.

"The status quo is not going to continue," she said.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator