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Marion Barry Threatens D.C. Taxi Drivers With Job-Killing Regulation


It was the freest taxi industry in the nation...until now.

If it's moving: regulate it.  Literally.

That seems to be the policy in Washington D.C. these days. The moving target this time is the D.C. taxi industry, whose drivers, until now, were among the freest operators in the nation. The profession, which has long been a stepping stone for many including new immigrants, is reportedly under threat of a burdensome new bill -- one co-sponsored by disgraced city council member and former mayor Marion Barry -- that would require every cab driver in the District to own a special "medallion" in order to operate. The problem is, only 4,000 medallions will be issued and there are anywhere between 6,500 and 10,000 cab drivers currently operating in the District at a given time.

Reportedly, the first set of medallions available for purchase will only be offered to drivers who have been operating for at least five years and currently reside inside the District. The city, however, apparently has no clue how many drivers meet this criteria. And given the rising cost of living in D.C., it might be safe to assume a number of drivers who may have lived in the city before, have since moved to the more affordable suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.

The next in line for the medallions would allegedly be cab companies, that would in turn rent the medallions to drivers. Up to now, most of D.C.'s drivers have been owner-operators, free to make their own hours and keep all of the money they earn. According to Reason, these new regulations would destroy the open-access taxi industry in D.C..

But who would want such a thing to happen, and why? Reason explains:

The medallion bill was written by lobbyist and former city councilman John Ray, who was hired by taxi magnate Jerry Schaeffer. Ray has worked as a lawyer for councilman Harry Thomas, and it was Thomas who introduced Ray's bill in the city council. The other major sponsor of the bill: Council member Marion Barry, the former mayor best known for his 1990 arrest for smoking crack in a hotel room with a girlfriend.

In a recent letter in the Washington Post, Ray argued that because the cab industry is open entry and unregulated it's been susceptible to corruption. But in practice the DC taxi commission, which currently regulates the industry, has its own history of corruption. And the commission is so wary of scrutiny that when reporter Pete Tucker snapped a photo on his cellphone at a recent public meeting he was dragged out and arrested.

Below is an explanation of the video you are about to watch. Warning, there is some explicit language: Producer Jim Epstein captured Tucker's arrest on his mobile phone. Later, Epstein was also arrested after resisting attempts by the taxi commission and us park police to confiscate his camera phone. When Tucker was arrested, cab drivers, stormed out of the meeting in protest.

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