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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Dome Light Change Fought by D.C. Cabbies

WASHINGTON (CN) - New dome light regulations for D.C. taxicabs remove the life-saving "call 911" system that drivers use when in distress, a class claims in Federal Court.

The cabbies sued the D.C. Taxicab Commission, the City Council and the city, alleging disability discrimination and violations of the 14th Amendment. Lacking the "call 911" feature of the old dome lights, the new dome light system that becomes mandatory next month puts cab drivers with disabilities at risk, according to the complaint.

Along with the dome light, the new "Modern Taximeters Systems Regulations" will also allow GPS tracking of cabs and their passengers. The system works with a smart chip that reveals the identity of passengers who pay with a credit or debit card, as well as the time and location from the moment they catch the cab to the time they disembark.

"All the information after a credit card transaction is processed is downloaded in real time to the District of Columbia Taxicab Commission," the complaint states. "This GPS tracking is an invasion of privacy for the driver and the passenger and is a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

As for the dome lights, drivers say the new lights those with disabilities at risk unless they pony up the cash for a more expensive light.

"A taxicab driver with a disability has no other option but to purchase the more expensive dome light in order to accommodate their disability," the class says. "The new dome light requirement presents a cost prohibitive imposition upon the taxicab drivers with a disability and presents an employment obstacle because of the higher cost of the proper equipment to accommodate their disability.

"This impediment did not exist under the prior dome light system."

The complaint notes that the old dome lights had a flashing "call 911" signal that a cab driver could activate by a trigger within the cab.

"The call 911 sign alerts pedestrians, other drivers and law enforcement officials that a taxicab driver's life is in distress due to a medical crisis or physical harm by a third party," the complaint states.

Illuminating the new lights can only be done from the outside of the cab, a feature that poses additional challenges for drivers with disabilities, according to the complaint.

"Under the Modern Taximeters Systems Regulations ('MTS'), the plaintiffs and the class member are required to establish an account with an approved payment service provider ('PSP') for the credit card transactions," the cabbies say. "The Commission has the full authority to mine all information from every taxicab drivers' transaction.

"The Commission is privy to all of the taxicab drivers' activities."

Since the lead plaintiffs and the class "are literally all foreign born or are African-Americans," the new "draconian measures" violate the Equal Protection Clause, according to the complaint.

The cabbies also say that the commission's power and authority now outweigh the Internal Revenue Service.

Taxicab Commission Chairman Ronald Linton is also a named defendant, facing claims that the regulations are a result of the city's negligent hiring of him.

The class wants a court order enjoining the Taxicab Commission from enforcing the new regulations and damages to be determined at trial.

They are represented by Billy Ponds.

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