Joseph Feghal has been driving a cab for 27 years. His son is fighting with the U. S. Army in Iraq. Feghal faced City Council Saturday and asked for the right to make a better living for himself and his family.
“We are simply asking that you give us the same freedom that all Americans want and that will give us a better life. Give us the right to own our own business.”
Feghal was one of 40 taxicab drivers attending a public hearing Saturday seeking an opportunity to own their own certificates. But in the end, Council voted 6-1 to make some changes to the way the city's taxicab services are regulated and left the ownership of certificates in the hands of the six taxicab companies operating in the city.
“Some senior citizens received a letter that was a scare tactic, and that was wrong,” said Timothy Whitehead. “Those who sent it should stand up and take responsibility for what they did. We will of course continue to provide services to the elderly and disabled. That will not change. Right now, I pay $130 in stand dues so that the company has the privilege to put their name on my cab. The drivers are the ones who provide the services, not the companies. All we are asking for is the right to own our own business, just like any other American.”
Whitehead was referring to the issue of providing city-subsidized rides to the elderly and citizens with disabilities. The city currently contracts with a cab company for these services. Jim Yates, the owner of Alexandria Yellow Cab, said that the companies would be reluctant to provide these services if they could not count on a specific income stream.
Daniel Telahoun, another driver, spoke of the community’s diversity. “Look around you,” he told members of City Council. “In this room, you can see diversity in nationality and in economic groups. We came to this country running from political and religious persecution. Today, our children and us rally around the American flag and stand for the principles of freedom. Too many times we have been coming to you and asking you to listen to us. There is something bothering us.
COUNCILMAN David Speck summarized the issue. “There are some things that we need to change,” he said. “Like instituting a dispute-resolution system that will be followed by the companies and the drivers. Also, we need to better monitor [of] what is happening with the companies. But it is our job to make decisions that are in the public interest, and we really have had relatively few complaints about the current system.
"Whatever decision we make here today is not going to make everybody in the room happy. I am not going to support giving ownership of the certificates to the drivers.”
Another issue was reducing the number of certificates. “Right now, we have nearly five cabs for every 1,000 residents in Alexandria,” said Mayor Kerry J. Donley. “This puts us at the top in cabs per capita in the metro area. I think we should look at a target of perhaps three per thousand residents and see what that would mean in terms of reducing the number of certificates that we issue. This would allow drivers to earn a better living and would still provide adequate service to our citizens,” he said.
Lonnie Rich represents Alexandria Yellow Cab. “We are going to talk about a lot of issues here but everyone in the room knows that the only real problem is the certificates and who owns them,” he said. “Alexandria Yellow Cab has a dispute resolution process outlined in their contracts with drivers and we support reducing the number of certificates although there are some concerns with that, specifically, that it will decrease the number of entry-level jobs in the city.”
COUNCILWOMAN Joyce Woodson requested that staff look into the possibility of granting the certificates to drivers. “There is a basic fairness issue here,” she said.
But in the end, Council voted 6-1 to ask staff to look into implementing the dispute-resolution system, to look at reducing the number of certificates and to propose a more adequate monitoring system. The changes must be formally adopted by Council. Staff will make final recommendations at a legislative meeting in May.