Updated 2:17 p.m.
An escalating fight over a $35 million contract to install new "smart" meters in the District of Columbia's taxis is now before a District of Columbia Superior Court judge, with a company that lost the bid suing to stop installation.
Mayor Vincent Gray (D) held a press conference yesterday to announce that installation was underway, prompting Creative Mobile Technologies LLC (CMT) — a Long Island City, N.Y.-based company that didn't win the contract — to file a lawsuit (PDF) later in the day. The company is pursuing an administrative challenge to the contract and argued in its complaint that the city shouldn't be allowed to start installation until that process is finished.
CMT, represented by Reed Smith's D.C. managing partner A. Scott Bolden and other firm attorneys, is scheduled to make its case for a temporary restraining order (PDF) tomorrow afternoon before District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Laura Cordero.
Plans to modernize the city's taxis have been the subject of political debate for years. In January, the city asked for bids to develop, install and operate new "smart" meters that would, among other things, allow riders to pay fares using a credit card. According to CMT's complaint, the company submitted its bid within the city's deadlines and, for a time, was considered within "competitive range" for the contract.
In July, the Office of Contracting and Procurement, which was managing the bidding process for the city's Taxicab Commission, notified CMT that it was no longer in the running. According to the complaint, the office didn't explain why. The city awarded the contract on July 6 to VeriFone Inc. CMT and another company that lost the bid, RideCharge Inc. (now called Taxi Magic), filed protests shortly after.
Contracts are stayed in the face of protests, but based on findings certified by taxi commission Chairman Ron Linton, the city's chief procurement officer issued a determination in late July that plans to install the new meters needed to move ahead, despite CMT and RideCharge's protests. The reasons included that the new meters would "protect the public safety and welfare" and ensure taxis were prepared for the crush of visitors expected to attend the presidential inauguration in January.
CMT filed a challenge to Linton's findings with the city's Contract Appeals Board, which said it would make a decision by August 31. The company is arguing that the city shouldn’t be allowed to continue installing the new meters until then.
Linton referred questions about the lawsuit to the Office of the Attorney General, but confirmed that six taxis will have the new meters installed by the end of today and that 30 taxis are expected to have meters installed by the end of next week. According to The Washington Post, which first reported the lawsuit, at least two taxis had meters installed on the first day. The installation rate will continue to go up until it reaches about 100 per day, Linton said. According to a release from Gray’s office, 6,500 taxis are expected to have the meters installed within 90 days.
Bolden, in a phone interview today, said the city should be barred from installing more meters because drivers would have to uninstall the meters if his client is successful in protesting the contract. "Our position is essentially: You're looking at less than a 10-day window to wait on the [board]'s decision, what's the emergency? We've had at least 48 presidential inaugurations in the District of Columbia without smart meters. Another 10 days doesn’t seem to be offensive or invasive of the goal here," he said.
In a written statement, Attorney General Irvin Nathan said his office "will be filing a vigorous written opposition prior to the court hearing demonstrating that plaintiffs will not suffer any injury, let alone irreparable injury, if the implementation goes forward before the Contract Appeals Board decides the issue late next week."
An earlier version of this article misstated Ron Linton's role in issuing the July determination.