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DC Council considers primary date, diagonal parking, free school transit, taxi medallions and much more

DC's primary will likely move to April, people will get solar rebates, and bills introduced in the DC Council yesterday could establish a taxi medallion system, make transit free for schoolchildren, add diagonal parking, and put requirements on large retailers like Walmart.

Photo by Pcora on Flickr.

The Council approved the first reading of a bill to move DC's presidential and local primary to April 3 next year. The presidential date allows DC to potentially band together with Maryland and Delaware and get bonus delegates from the political parties, which are trying to incentivize regional primaries after March.

For the local primary, March is more problematic. Since DC's primary essentially determines the winner in races including the mayoral race, a primary at the start of March could mean that one person will hold the seat for 10 more months while another is already virtually certain to take over.

We saw Mayor Fenty essentially stop making significant decisions once he lost the primary, but Gray was not yet mayor to start making any decisions, and so little happened in the government in the interim. Having this last for almost a year is dangerous. Councilmembers Phil Mendelson (at-large) and Tommy Wells (ward 6) raised this same objection in the session, but won over no colleagues.

Also during the legislative session, the Council gave those solar rebates to people who had qualified but suddenly found there was no money; unfortunately, this comes out of other sustainable energy funding.

They also delayed a vote on a nominee to the Board of Zoning Adjustment, Gray campaign attorney 1998-2000 DCRA head Lloyd Jordan, in part because of opposition letters from some neighborhood groups.

Sekou Biddle (interim at-large) introduced a bill to make transit free for children traveling to and from school. He argued that this will reduce truancy. It might, but it would also cost money which DC doesn't have, and there was no indication where the money might come from to pay for this.

Harry Thomas, Jr. (ward 5) introduced three car-related bills. A pair of bills asks for regulations to allow diagonal parking in business corridors, when 60% of businesses in an area ask for it, and religious institutions on Sundays, with the approval of the area ANC.

Diagonal parking can be a fine way to fit more parking into an area when there is room on the street that's not already being used. DDOT is proposing this between Tenleytown's Whole Foods and Wilson High, for instance. But in most places in DC where church parking is scarce, there isn't room on the street to add diagonal parking.

Area business corridors, ANCs, and churches should be able to petition DDOT now to consider diagonal parking if they want to. They should also be able to ask DDOT to consider removing parking, or changing a street from one-way to two-way or vice versa, or adding a bike lane.

So yes, diagonal parking should be a part of the overall toolbox, and if DDOT lacks the authority to implement it now, they should get that authority. But diagonal parking will only make sense in a very small number of cases. Thomas talked about holding town halls around his ward, and it's hard not to wonder if he's just introducing this to be able to say he's doing something at those town halls, even if that something is almost always impractical for the specific situation.

On a side note, Thomas seems to be trying to keep the bill from singling out one faith by referring to "religious institutions," but by limiting the rule to Sundays, it does exclude religious institutions which celebrate on Saturdays, for instance.

Another bill that's likely to generate more serious debate is a measure from Thomas, Michael Brown (at-large) and Marion Barry (ward 8) to establish a system of taxicab medallions, with separate categories for DC resident drivers and non-resident drivers, as well as special categories for taxis operating in underserved areas and low-emission (hybrid) taxis. This topic is worth its own, separate post.

Phil Mendelson introduced a pair of bills largely targeted at Wal-Mart. Both apply only to retailers of at least 75,000 square feet, requiring them to negotiate Community Benefits Agreements with their neighborhoods and pay living wages and benefits.

Observers think these have little chance of passing. The bills will go to committees chaired by Thomas and Michael Brown, who both court the union vote but also who have shown little interest in interfering with Walmart's expansion into DC.

Other bills included ones to require food trucks to pay sales tax, as we discussed yesterday, and expand low-income property tax relief, from Jack Evans (ward 2); to publish Council procurement information online, from Chairman Kwame Brown and Mary Cheh (ward 3); to allow L3Cs, a type of hybrid nonprofit/for-profit business entity; and a number of measures from Cheh to improve transparency.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Instead of limiting entry by requiring a medallion, how about limiting entry by requiring a minimum quality of taxi? NYC taxis are all relatively new and in decent shape. DC cabs are hoopties.

Other than for the initial giveaway of medallions to existing drivers for free (which is inevitable--they won't charge) all it means is that it's costly for someone new to enter because they must buy a medallion. So having spent the money on a medallion the entrant now has less money and no incentive to provide a nicer cab.

On the other hand, if there are much stricter requirements for taxi quality, then you create similar restrictions on entry (still an up-front cost: a nice taxi), improved quality for customers, and incentives for continued use of nice cars (i.e., you can't provide taxi service if you don't keep the car in good shape).

by ah on Mar 16, 2011 11:01 am • linkreport

Medallions for DC cabs? Oh my god, did hell just freeze over?

I am ALL for it. It's about time we thinned the heard of shit-box jalopy death traps on DC streets. These medallions will hopefully foster a professional taxi service akin to NYC taxis.

The price though is ridiculous. Again, why are we giving away the keys to the DC treasury.

Medallions in NYC cost upwards of $700K per. $185,000 in Chicago and about $385,000 in Boston.

Why would DC give these things away for anywhere between $500 and $10,000?

by freely on Mar 16, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

I would suggest doing away with the mayoral primaries and instead selecting the new mayor in the general election using Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).

by Alan on Mar 16, 2011 11:05 am • linkreport

@ah: Medallions are far easier to enforce. To enforce a "nice car," you'd have to employ a team of people to regularly inspect minute details of each taxi and make a lot of subjective judgments. With medallions, it's displayed prominently and you either have it or you don't.

NYC, as far as I know, does not enforce the quality of taxis, other than that they be a certain model of vehicle, under a certain age and a certain color. Yet they're still pretty clean.

by Tim on Mar 16, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

Barry/Brown wants to encourage DC residents to become taxi operators, by participating in the Taxicab Employment Operator Program, which will allow for any licensed DC resident of 5 years.

After they complete the 2month training, the "new" individual operators will have to pay anywhere from 250 up to 5g's, depending on the class of medallion. Those operating beyond 20yrs will pay between $125 to $500.

Then they're suggesting the creation of a 2mil Taxicab Operator Assistance Revolving Fund which will provide loans up to 1/2 the vehicles cost, purchase of a vehicle or any other purpose.

Ok, let me go back and figure out this medallion thing again.

by HogWash on Mar 16, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

As someone who regularly doles out change to kids (yes 10yr olds) who lack money to get on the bus, I agree that there should be a subsidy for schoolchildren. I do not believe it should be FREE.

I also think they should tie the subsidy to the child's performance in school. And in a perfect world, welfare benefits would be as well.

by HogWash on Mar 16, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

David: I see you have avoided putting in the latest scandals of your beloved savior, Vince Gray which has hit the papers today:
1. salary issues with his appointees
2. The nonprofit probe of a convicted drug pin and ties to Gray

what's the problem...the truth hurts?

by sick of 'em on Mar 16, 2011 11:30 am • linkreport

Re: diagonal parking on Sundays

While it's not a solution everywhere, it is a solution in a few places. There does not appear to a standard process for getting it approved. There is paperwork, but it just disapears into a blackhole with no answer ever received.

I can't access google street view at work, but the block on Vermont Ave in front of Luther Place Memorial Church (1226 Vermont Ave) would be a good candidate. There are two other churches within a block with slightly different schedules schedules so would probably benefit more than just the one congregation.

Generally, I see no reason why you couldn't accomodate something for the day of worship for any religious group as long as it wasn't say during rush hour.

re: Lame duck mayor for a year -- Bad, bad idea

by Kate on Mar 16, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

@Tim - Medallions have little to do with verification of a license to operate. That's already easily handled through the existing licensing scheme, including tags and stickers. The medallion adds basically nothing to enforcement.

The purpose of a medallion is to limit entry and make taxi driving more profitable for those with the license to operate. So would a restriction on cab quality, even if there are enforcement costs and discretion as to what is good enough (which could be handled through the required inspections every 6 months and a basic checklist of items: working seatbelts? working windows? working a/c? Car free of significant dents? Seats free of rips? No offensive odors in interior?)

by ah on Mar 16, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

@Tim - NYC has extensive rules (available at mandating the make, model, year, condition and features of taxis, as well as customer friendly measures like requiring drivers to accept credit cards and passenger viewable GPS displays and conducts regular inspections to enforce them.

I would strongly support a medallion system for DC if it is coupled with similar regulations (and their enforcement.) My concern, however, given the fact that DC's TLC seems to be completely dysfunctional, is that it would end up protecting the current operators by making it harder for new competitors (who might offer better service) to enter the market.

by Jacob on Mar 16, 2011 12:03 pm • linkreport

Barry/Brown wants to encourage DC residents to become taxi operators, by participating in the Taxicab Employment Operator Program, which will allow for any licensed DC resident of 5 years.

Frankly, I don't see any benefit from encouraging DC residents to become taxi operators. How about just overseeing this quasi-public service and ensuring it meets some minimal level of quality?

Having a medallion system, then charging some trifling sum is a joke. Utterly ridiculous.

by oboe on Mar 16, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

The problem is that Barry and co. view the taxi cab industry as a jobs program. So we end up with too many cabs. And then they complain that rates have to be so high in order for them to live on it. Reduce the number of cabs would mean more fares to spread around which would mean that rates don't need to be as high. But fundamentally we need to throw out this concept of the cab as a jobs program. It's a critical part of our transportation system. We need more uniformity and quality with lower and fairer rates. I simply don't see that happening with a mayor that can thank cabbies for winning.

Also, if we can't get rid if the primaries in a year when we're about to elect a new CM who will likely only win a small plurality and who probably won't be the majority's second choice either, and a year when we've got to decide whether an 8 month lame duck is better than a 10 month lame duck, we are never going to get rid of primaries. My only hope is that the first mayoral primary ends in such an unmitigated disaster that those with a vested interest in protecting the party have to back down.

by TM on Mar 16, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

Complaining because DC taxis don't look nice?! That's a new one. There are plenty of car services that will provide town cars and limos for the fancy lads out there. I'd be more interested in seeing safer driving practices and better enforcement when it comes to taxis. If that's part of a medallion system, then terrific.

by aaa on Mar 16, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

TM. I don't think cabbing has been a jobs vehicle for long time DC residents since the 80's.

It's been appropriated by the political refugee class du jour since at least the early 90's.

However, this class is very politically active and with shoddy tax auditing, comes heavy political influence.

by ahk on Mar 16, 2011 1:48 pm • linkreport


First, let me point out that this idea is being championed by Marion Barry, so we should immediately be suspicious. Second, if an increase in taxi quality is what we're aiming for, that can easily be done at little cost through inspections. Many states (like VA) have inspection requirements for all cars. The way it works is that you take your car to any mechanic authorized to do inspections, they charge you something like $15 to check your car against a pretty comprehensive checklist, and if your car meets requirements, you're out of there in 20 mins.

The problem with medallions is that it will reduce the number of taxis out there, making it more difficult to catch a cab at peak times, late at night, or in out-of-the-way areas. There has been no increase in the number NYC medallions in 50 years (largely due to intense lobbying by medallion owners). How would you like to have the same number of taxis in DC 50 years from now when the population will likely be much higher?

by Falls Church on Mar 16, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

Inspections won't do - we're not just talking about ensuring that the existing cab components are safe and well maintained, we're talking about actual technical improvements to be mandated across all cabs - mandatory acceptance of credit card payment, mandatory visible GPS systems, for example.

Now, we can discuss if we'd like to reach those standards by using a medallion system, or by just changing the requirements and issuing fines for non-compliance. Either way, the quality of cabs in DC leaves much to be desired.

by Alex B. on Mar 16, 2011 3:26 pm • linkreport

DC's cab service is easily the worst of any major city I've ever been to and the current meter system has not improved it.

by Dave J on Mar 16, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

The diagonal parking measure introduced by CM Thomas came after suggestions were made to him for reducing the amount of illegally parked vehicles on Sundays around religious establishments in Ward 5. Apparently there is an "unwritten law" on Sundays in the District that allows church-goers to park wherever they want, illegally - blocking crosswalks, MetroBus zones, alleys, fire hydrants, etc.

The offenders of the clearly marked "NO PARKING" signs pose a safety hazard to pedestrians attempting to cross the streets, bikers attempting to see around illegally parked vehicles and cars trying to pull into traffic.

However, this does not create an immediate fix to the safety concerns.

by Jeremy on Mar 16, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

I think creating a limited medallion system is backwards. Taxicabs in DC are almost a perfect example of supply and demand - there is low entry costs, which means almost anyone can become a taxi driver. That means that the number of drivers is dictated by demand - there are enough people willing to pay the specified rates to keep the number of cabs on the street that there are. If cabs start losing money, then they stop operating, and the supply of cabs decreases.

While cabs in this city are not great, they are plentiful. Any efforts to increase the entry fees will cause fewer taxis to exist. Cabbies are currently making enough to continue driving; why would we create barriers have less people drive?

by OhioExile on Mar 16, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

I agree with Jeremy's comments above. CM Thomas' bills are a weak attempt at solving a very serious safety issue. Since DC seems to allow church goers to illegaly park every weekend, my neighborhood of Bloomingdale has become extremely unsafe. Church goers park upto and into intersections, block fire hydrants, driveways and alleys. Neighbors have to use extreme caution walking in crosswalks and pulling out onto roadways as a result.

I and other neighbors have called 3-1-1, 9-1-1 and contacted Councilman Thomas and voiced our concerns on this issue. We have been ignored and told "I'll talk with the ministers". Rather then talking with the ministers, why not talk to your constituents, aka tax payers. Why not enforce parking laws?

Not only would the city get some much needed revenue from these illegally parked vehicle owners, but it would improve safety conditions in our neighborhood and others.

Ignoring this issue for so long has brought it to a critical mass, CM Thomas needs to do more then introduce some bills about back in angle parking as the solution.

by Brice on Mar 16, 2011 4:33 pm • linkreport

But OE, if the price is fixed, as it is with cabs, then it is nowhere near a perfect example of supply and demand. What we have is an overabundance of supply which leads to the cabbies demanding ridiculous fixed fares in order to stay in business. They are absolutely explicit about this point. Go back and look at the debate over removing the zones and that awful study that Graham produced (which was the definition of regulatory capture). If cabs had variable rates, then yeah, I'd say the more the merrier. But they don't.

by TM on Mar 16, 2011 4:38 pm • linkreport

Why not enforce parking laws?

Because the churches in this town get whatever they want, and laws do not apply to gods people (who live in PG county).

I find it ridiculous to create special rules for christian churches. Park your car in a garage, park it in a legal spot, or take public transportation. Render unto Ceasar christians.

The issue that needs a council input is to encourage the police to cease the ability of the automobile drivers illegally parking their cards to ensure safety for residents and others legal use of the public roads. The issue is NOT how to better assist ministers in getting free city created parking zones so they can increase the butts in their pews.

by greent on Mar 16, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

Making the entry level high and the exit difficult will not help any one.

Pages 9 and 10 of the legislation are missing from the draft. They are very important pages.

by Dane on Mar 18, 2011 9:21 pm • linkreport

It is all about quality. We need new taxis and give medallion to those who has new cars. We deserve a better service.

by David on Mar 22, 2011 6:32 pm • linkreport

The idea of medallion is nonesense. Why you limit the number of medallion only 4000? when there are actually more than 6000 cab drivers already. Unless they wanted to discriminate certain section of cab drivers based on race and service. All cab drivers are currently serving the dc people and they should be given equal opportunity for medallion. Mayor fentyn has wounded dc cab industry seriosly. If the new mayor sign this bill , for sure he is killing the very people who elected him.

by mel on Mar 23, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport


Why shouldn't we discriminate based on service? DC cab riders deserve a minimum standard of service that too often isn't provided now. Clean and safe vehicles. Credit card payment in every cab. GPS navigation. Etc.

If you don't think Medallions are the pathway to meet those standards, please propose a different path.

by Alex B. on Mar 23, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

I travel to NYC at least 6 times a year. The problem I find with cabs in DC is the extra 1.50 per person fee. When in NYC I have no issue taking a cab with 3 friends a short distance. In DC, getting into a cab with 3 friends adds 4.50 on to the starting fare. Just go get into the cab cost 7.50. Thats what the total cost of a 5 minute cab ride in NYC would cost. Get rid of the extra person fee, and ridership will rise, especially for short distances.

by Scott O. on Mar 29, 2011 9:13 am • linkreport

Well, I driver dc taxi the past 9 Years. Medallions are a good idea. Suppose if a driver get sick or die, his family have something by renting or selling the medallions. Here is the problem, around 90% of the drivers are living out side DC. Out of 10% Dc drivers, 6% of those are drive taxi more than a year. So based on the bill that MR.Marion Barry proposed, most medallions (95%) will be held by companies. This hurt individual who serve the city.

by Allen on Mar 31, 2011 12:36 pm • linkreport


Render unto Ceasar christians.

Bah, that went out with Constantine...

by oboe on Mar 31, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

Here is the problem, around 90% of the drivers are living out side DC. Out of 10% Dc drivers, 6% of those are drive taxi more than a year.

Not to be harsh, but this is the main reason DC residents have no compelling interest in giving concessions to the taxi lobby. And yet, until the last 5 years or so, it's been the taxi lobby that's pretty much dictated policy to DC residents. The sooner one or two large corporations--well-regulated--are given access to DC, the better. Even if that means the individual cabbie is driven out of business.

The system as it is, is just one more welfare subsidy by DC residents to MD and VA residents.

by oboe on Mar 31, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

The bill is PERFECT if you want to create TOTAL CHAOS within the industry and city. You want to restrict a portion of cabs to so called "GEOGRAPHICALLY UNDERSERVED AREAS" Really?? If you believe that cab driver is going to drive around in WARD 7 or 8 ONLY (EASE OF THE RIVER) to make a living Y O U - A R E - O U T - O F - Y O U R - XXXX - M I N D.

by David B on Apr 3, 2011 8:59 pm • linkreport

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