The murder of a District cab driver is shining a light on the safety of drivers and passengers in city taxis. The D.C. Taxicab Commission appeared before the City Council and ran into some strong criticism for inaccurately suggesting too many drivers harrass or assault female passengers. News4's Tom Sherwood reports that the commission could not back up those claims.
D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh is questioning the validity of complaint data kept by the D.C. Taxicab Commission.
During a public hearing Wednesday, it was revealed that the number of sexual harassment complaints against cab drivers may be far less than previously suggested.
Just over three months ago, the Taxicab Commission reported that it receives 150 complaints a month -- 80 percent of which come from women.
However, those complaints don't just encompassed incidents of harassment; they could note something as simple as a late pickup or rude behavior.
Since the beginning of 2012, there have only been 33 sexual harassment complaints against drivers.
While the number of serious complaints is foggy, safety remains a concern for both passengers and drivers.
Last month, two D.C. taxicab drivers had their licenses suspended indefinitely after they were arrested and charged with simple assault following an altercation at an area gas station.
“The behavior of these drivers is intolerable,” Commission Chairman Ron M. Linton said in a statement. “The Commission intends to use its statutory authority to suspend and possibly revoke the licenses of drivers who engage in behavior that threatens the safety of passengers in DC taxis or the public at large.”
The drivers -- Sharanjit Singh and Ephream Esheterom -- joined three others who have lost their licenses since New Year's Day.
Abdel Hakim Rhany had his license suspended May 6 after he was arrested for assaulting a Hack Inspector. Tesfai Mesghina lost his privilege after being arrested for driving on an expired license and operating a taxi without a valid picture ID. In January, a cabbie named Kefyalew Teshome had his license suspended indefinitely after he was criminally convicted of assaulting a passenger.
Drivers also want to feel safe while on the job.
Wednesday's hearing opened with a moment of silence for 57-year-old Solomon James Okoroh, a D.C. taxi driver who was fatally shot Tuesday morning in Adams Morgan. Two men are in custody in connection with his death.
Taxi Commission Chairman Ron Linton said proposed mandatory panic buttons in cabs would help protect drivers and passengers.
Safety shields between drivers and passengers were also recommended.
"It's a dangerous job," said Councilman Jim Graham, who suggested the city pay for the installation of the shields.
During Wednesday's hearing, new taxi cab regulations were also discussed. Under the Taxicab Service Improvement Amendment Act of 2012, taxis will be required to "accept credit cards...install passenger and driver security devices...and adopt a uniform color scheme...," among other improvements.
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