When Ben Khaii moved to Virginia in 1985, he wanted to live the American dream. A native of Agadir, Morocco, Khaii became an Alexandria taxi driver. But he soon learned that the life of a taxi driver was fraught with problems.
“We have to work seven days a week just to pay all the fines,” Khaii said. “I want to take time off to spend with my children.”
Now, after 22 years of driving a taxi in Alexandria, Khaii might be able to take a day or two off. He might even be able to swing a week vacation to travel to Florida with his children who want to see Disneyworld. This is because Khaii might soon become a business owner — a member of the Union Taxi Company Cooperative.
“If you have too much to drink next New Year’s Eve, we’ll be there to drive you home,” Khaii said, adding that members of the cooperative are experienced drivers. “Our drivers are the best because they are veteran taxi drivers.”
On Monday, Khaii and a handful of other members of the potential cooperative arrived at the city’s taxi regulation office to file an application to create a new taxi service. The company would be owned by its employees. If approved, the new Union Taxi Company Cooperative would have charcoal-colored cars with yellow writing.
“This is what competition is all about,” said Abkidrim Sharmark, who has driven a taxi in Alexandria for 19 years. “If you have a good service, people will come to you.”
MANY OF THE TAXI DRIVERS in the potential cooperative have struggled against two companies they say monopolize Alexandria’s business. Taking advantage of City Council’s recent revisions to how the local industry is regulated, the drivers decided to form the cooperative so they could be their own bosses and share in the profits.
“This will help our drivers improve their quality of life,” said Syed Hussain, the president of the cooperative. “All of our drivers are drivers are veterans, and they know what they are doing.”
As they met in the parking lot before turning in their application, the drivers were overjoyed with the possibility of owning their own business. For many of the drivers, this was a moment that was years in the making.
“This is the end of 20 years of struggle,” said Abbassali Abousaidi, who has driven a taxi in Alexandria for 15 years. “This will be good for us and good for the community.”
Tom Culpepper, deputy director of transportation for the Transportation and Environmental Services, said that he expects the city’s review of the application to take about two or three months. First, it will go through a sufficiency review to make sure that all the required information was submitted. It will then be reviewed by city staff members before being sent to the Traffic and Parking Board, which will make a recommendation to the city manager. Ultimately, City Manager Jim Hartmann will make the final decision about the ability of the cooperative to create a new taxi company in the city.
“We’re in receipt of the application,” Culpepper said on Wednesday. “And we’ve already started the review process.”