WUSA9 Undercover: Cabs strand blacks - official says it's not racism

12:33 AM, Dec 19, 2013   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Undercover photos: Cabs ignore black passengers
  • In February alone, WUSA9 tested hundreds of DC cabs finding blacks left hailing, while whites were picked up.
  • In our may test, 33% of cabs tested picked up our white passenger, leaving black and disabled passengers on the street.
  • Our undercover operation began in December 2012, repeatedly showing black passengers stranded at a higher rate than whites
  • For our 2013 test, our white passenger and black passenger wore identical clothes and hailed from same locations
  • "It's really not the racial thing that results in failure to haul," Linton said. "Most of it is economic."
  • Stranded on camera. This lifelong DC resident wasn't part of our planned undercover operation. We watched three cabs with "lighted for hire" domes pass him by.
  • It is easier to track which in service cabs pass passengers because of new "Taxi for hire" lights on available cabs.
  • Our undercover black passenger wore the same clothes as our white passenger - but was refused repeatedly.
  • Not one cab passed our white reporter - in fact one cab stopped before we had even started hailing - asking if we possibly needed a ride.


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  • WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - A year long, caught-on-camera, undercover WUSA9 test shows DC cabs repeatedly giving white passengers preferential treatment at a rate as high as one out of three cabs stopping for white passengers compared to African-Americans, but the chairman of DC's taxi commission calls it economic, not racial discrimination.

    See below for contact information on District officials who can implement change.

    To track this story, follow @russptacek on Twitter or like Russ Ptacek on Facebook.

    See our original 2012 investigation here: http://www.wusa9.com/investigation/article/232588/453/DC-Cabs-Refuse-Service-To-Black-Passenger-On-Hidden-Camera

    Hidden camera footage shows multiple cabs passing same black passenger

    In our new November-December 2013 test, one caught on camera segment shows an African-American male, who wasn't part of our undercover operation, trying to hail cabs lighted with "for hire" signs.

    The cabs sped by him while our crew, cameras rolling, screamed at the taxis to stop, one finally slowing down saying he didn't see the man.

    At the same location, our white passenger was picked up by the first cab that passed.

    If you think that is a coincidence watch our undercover video documenting about 33% of cabs passing our black passengers, while zero - not one taxi - passed our white passenger.

    Want your opinion heard by DC officials?

    If you want your voice heard, contact Mayor Vincent Gray at eom@dc.gov, Chairman of DC Council's Transportation Committee, Council Member Mary Cheh at mcheh@dccouncil.us, the DC Taxi Commission Chairman at dctc3@dc.gov, or click here for contact information of all DC City Councilmembers: http://www.dccouncil.us/files/user_uploads/documents/Council_Listing_-_2013.pdf

    Including the three cabs that just passed that man, over the past weeks, we tested 57 cabs.

    I posed as a passenger at the same locations where we staged an undercover African-American rider...each of us wearing the same clothing and and uncercover cameras showing each receiving quite different treatment.

    Taxi Commission Chair believes equal service is improving

    "I think we've made improvement," said DC Taxi Commission Chairman Ron Linton whether taxis are more likely to pick up black passengers since our tests began in December 2012.

    Linton questioned the sample size of our November-December 2013 test.

    "How many did you test?" Linton asked - we told him we had tested about 50 in our most recent sample. "That is less than one percent."

    WUSA9 has tested hundred of cabs for racial disparity

    But over the past year, WUSA9 has tested hundreds of cabs.

    Starting a year ago, in December 2012, our undercover crews watched 15% of DC cabs tested refuse our black passenger's destination - video shows one of them locking the doors in his face as the driver says, "I'm not going there."

    The cabby then drove a hundred feet farther to our undercover white passenger and agreed to take the white man to the same destination he'd just refused the black man.

    In February we, we tested every Saturday night for three weeks from sundown until two in the morning,, testing nearly a hundred taxis..and this time, tracking cabs passing women too.

    25% of cabs in that test passed our black passengers in favor of undercover whites down the street.

    In May we tracked more cabs passing black or blind passengers with service dogs at a failure rate of about 33%.

    The same month, we tracked 48% of cabs tested passing blind passengers with service dogs and riders in wheel chairs.

    Same cabs repeatedly stop for white passenger

    But the same cabs never passed me.

    DC taxi inspectors followed our operations twice, but there is no evidence they ever tracked racial disparity independently.

    Following our crews, inspectors issued over 80 citations, but they stop patrolling at midnight and our investigation shows cabs know it.

    No taxi inspectors patrol overnight

    In July, we ran our undercover operations from midnight until four - when no taxi inspectors are on DC streets.

    Taxi inspector shifts end at midnight.

    We found 100% of 20 cabs tested failing basic rules like - no DC taxi license at all, those with licenses not posting the required proof with face ID cards, cabs without the required bill of rights showing how to complain and that couldn't print required receipts, with one Virginia cabby, illegally picking up fairs in DC acknowledging he knew he would get away with it because no one is enforcing the rules.

    Taxi Commission Chair says he has no data to show conditions are improving

    Except for discrimination against disabled passengers, our most recent test was tied for the highest failure rate we've documented during any undercover operations through the year.

    When confronted with the observation that the numbers would make it seem that there's been no improvement for black passengers over the past year, Chairman Linton disagreed.

    "Well, that's your opinion," Linton said saying the system has improved and black passengers are being picked up at a higher rate, but acknowledged he did not have data to support his belief. "Not at my fingertips."

    Our black passengers had to hail 34 cabs for 23 rides. Me? For 23 rides...I had to hail 22 cabs...that's right...one cab, I didn't even have to hail.

    Taxi Commission Chair says disparity is "not the racial thing"

    DC's taxi commission chairman is clear that the practice is illegal, but he believes taxis are looking for better paying fairs and calls it economic not racial discrimination

    "It's really not the racial thing that results in failure to haul," Linton said.  "Most of it is economic."

    He acknowledged drivers may be profiling by race, but said the decision process is motivated by a desire for better fares, calling it"an economic assumption."  

    He dismisses undercover operations, saying they are ineffective and says the commission relies on passengers to complain.

    "The enforcement action has to have a complainant," Linton said. "The effective way to do this is for people to rise up."

    Little comfort for some, like the lifelong DC resident we watched passed three times in a row who said that is his normal experience.

    "This is every day," the man said as he got into a cab our white crew screamed to a halt.

    Some drivers have defended the practice citing murders and violence against cabbies.

    On the day of publication, taxi commission officials released new data saying this year, they've investigated more than 11OO complaints, and Taxi Inspectors have issued more than 8,000 tickets for violations ranging from illegal fares to refusing service.

    Enforce your rights


    In response to our investigations the DC Office of Human Right has launched an initiative to enforce equal taxi service for all passengers. Click here for information about how to file a complaint: http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=262227

    Click here to understand your taxi rights and for information about how to file a complaint with the Taxi Commission: http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=232705




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