Updated at 5:03 p.m.
Local taxicab driver associations - backed with pro bono counsel from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld - filed suit today against the District of Columbia, accusing local officials of setting "completely arbitrary" fare rates that are "deeply harmful" to drivers.
Akin Gump partner Robert Lian Jr., who heads the firm's labor and employment practice, is lead counsel for the D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association and the Dominion of Cab Drivers.
"It came to my attention about a year ago that a couple associations of drivers were having some real frustrations with their dealings with the city and the taxicab commission,” Lian said in a phone interview this afternoon. “I thought it was a worthwhile project to get involved in.”
In the complaint (PDF), filed Tuesday morning in District of Columbia Superior Court, the taxicab groups accuse the mayor’s office of usurping authority from the D.C. Taxicab Commission, which is also named as a defendant, to set rates.
The case stems from a switch in 2008 from a zone-based fare system to meters. Under the new system, drivers receive $3 for the first sixth of a mile and 25 cents for each additional sixth of a mile, with a maximum fare of $19 for trips within the District. At the time, the complaint notes, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty also passed a mayoral order shifting control over the commission to the mayor’s office.
The taxi drivers’ groups claim that the new rate system, which was set pursuant to a mayoral order, is too low, falling below fare systems in Virginia and Maryland and other major U.S. cities. Current Mayor Vincent Gray repealed the mayoral control of the commission, but the groups complain that he instead unlawfully put rate-setting authority in the hands of the D.C. Taxicab Commission’s Chairman, Ron Linton.
According to the complaint, drivers have seen their income drop by as much as 30 percent since the transition to the new meter system. The associations also accuse the commission of being dysfunctional and in violation of a host of statutory requirements governing its day-to-day management.
In a statement, Gray called the lawsuit "disappointing and misguided."
"I am confident that many of the issues raised by the associations will [be] resolved without the need for ligation," he said. “However, should the associations decide to pursue the lawsuit, the Office of the Attorney General will vigorously defend it.”
The commission referred all questions to the mayor’s office.
The case is assigned to Judge Gregory Jackson. A scheduling conference is scheduled for Dec. 23.