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WUSA9 undercover, overnight taxi sting nets ten times more violations than reported, on average, by District inspectors

9:07 AM, Aug 5, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON,  D.C. (WUSA9) - An analysis by WUSA9 shows our overnight undercover taxi sting identified ten times more violations than a DC Taxi Commission inspector writes up in an average comparable shift.

Unlike DCTC inspectors, WUSA9 tested undercover and began at midnight when normal inspector shifts end, leaving taxis unsupervised for eight hours.

"Your statistical analysis is not sufficient," said Ron Linton, Chairman of the DC Taxi Commission, after watching the results of that taxi sting. "You don't know what percentage you found."

Linton emphasized the Commission relies on passengers to report non-complying cabbies and said his uniformed inspectors regularly identify infractions under the current system.

Linton called our test unscientific and suggested the possibility our undercover team may have encountered the only offending cabs on the streets that night - out of a fleet of 7,000 - 8,000 Washington, D.C. taxis - although he acknowledged that is unlikely.

Our test of 20 taxis - each one of which failed to meet the Commission's regulations - revealed that after the District's taxi inspectors go to bed, some cab drivers throw the rules out the window.

The DC Taxi Commission staffs investigators from 8:00 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday only.

Linton was incredulous at the violations our investigation revealed, laughing at the nerve of one driver, who attempted to solicit more riders to share a cab even after being told that we wanted to ride solo. He watched our tape of out-of-District drivers attempting to pick up fares within DC, drivers failing to show their facecard identification, drivers failing to display the Passenger's Bill of Rights, trying to avoid printing receipts for rides and improperly operating their meters.

In each of the rides Linton reviewed, he agreed that the cabbies were in violation of DC taxi laws. But Linton said that he was "surprised you didn't find more illegal cabs."

Linton's inspectors have joined WUSA9 on previous WUSA9 stings, but he has declined to assign inspectors to ride undercover. 

He called undercover operations a "waste of my resources."

The only way his office can address the rampant rule-breaking after midnight, Linton said, is to "get passengers to file complaints."

The Chairman insists that his office currently lacks the budget to pay his taxi inspectors to oversee District taxis seven days a week and overnight. 

He says that will change in the upcoming fiscal year when he hopes to staff eight more investigators and cover shifts seven days a week, 24-hours a day. 

Recruitment, training and implementation of those new enforcements will take time, he cautioned.

"It's going to take a couple months, you know, four or five months," Linton said.

Linton's inspectors write about 685 tickets per month, he told WUSA9. According to a May 17, 2012 memo issued by DC's Chief Financial Officer, the Taxicab Commission employs 12 taxi inspectors.  Our analysis shows that each of those inspectors writes, during a 40-hour work week, 3 tickets per 8 man-hours.

Comparatively, our undercover findings identified 31 ticket-worthy infractions in the same time frame.

When asked whether he thought that his investigators were missing out on the problems that the regular, cab-taking public encounters by not running undercover operations, Linton dismissed that possibility. 

"That does not make any sense," Linton said. "We are never going to have a sufficient force to be able to enforce against 7.000 to 8,000 (cabs), whatever it is that we have out there, on a 7/24 basis without consumer cooperation." 

The Commission, Linton said, is also exploring task force partnerships with multiple District and federal law enforcement agencies, but currently relies mostly on passengers to complain about driver misconduct. 

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