Lawmaker targets taxi industry in letter

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Taxicabs have a difficult job competing with Uber and Lyft, but their presence is now opening some old wounds between drivers and taxi owners in Montgomery County.

Drivers feel exploited.  They are upset.

That’s what Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner tells Acting Transportation Director Al Roshdieh in a letter this week.

Read Berliner’s letter to Roshdieh

“Taxi drivers are getting a raw deal.  Plain and simple,” says Berliner.

In the interview, he specifically took on the working conditions at Barwood.  It is the largest cab company in Montgomery County.

“We have one taxicab company that requires when someone has bought a professional vehicle license to a five year contract.  So even if they’re having a terrible time, they cannot go to another company,” he adds.

Barwood driver complains to mediator

For example, drivers who work at Barwood argue that the company charges them $643.80 in lease fees for the taxi, dispatch fees and vehicle insurance.  That equals $33,477.60 just to operate in a calendar year, just to break even.

Drivers also say Barwood makes them pay the entire swipe fee when someone uses a credit card, then tacks on an extra fee to cover costs.

“You are in the black from day one working for Uber or Lyft.  You are in a deep hole before you begin working for our local cab companies,” says Berliner.

In the letter, Berliner calls the taxicab drivers “among the most disempowered workers in our county.”

Barwood declined to go into details.

“These are very complex issues that can’t be addressed through sound bites.  We are looking forward to having a more substantive and productive discussion at the Council work session next week,” says Barwood Taxi spokesperson Terry Lee.

Changes could come as the County Council takes up a bill that could set the ground rules for Uber and Lyft.  The two companies could change the entire landscape and offer cab drivers a powerful bargaining chip and new job without all the regulations.  It will require Barwood and county regulators to ease regulations and find new ways to compete with Uber and Lyft for customers and drivers.

Uber and Lyft would not have a cap on the number of drivers, but they would be required to fully comply with an investigation.  This would include turning over drivers’ names, an issue that Uber has expressed some discomfort about.

Berliner has scheduled a committee meeting on Feb. 27 to discuss taxicab drivers.

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